Part 2: What if God planned a City?

You have to have some respect for the writers of the Torah. While they made some odd decisions (like mistaking rabbits for cows) they were quite thorough. They even wrote in a nice section in Numbers 35 that described some basic city planning.

35 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasture lands around the towns. 3 Then they will have towns to live in and pasture lands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.

4 “The pasture lands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits from the town wall. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Numbers 35:1-5

As an engineer, this is an entertaining passage. God, through His Law passed down through Moses, requires that Israelite cities provide a greenbelt to be set aside for pasture land. Late Bronze Age zoning. Take a few steps further, if you think about how the city described would grow, the pasture land would grow with it, but at a slower rate. To be sustainable, this would require agricultural innovations to increase crop yield to support the city that would free up other people inside the city to further develop the economy. Not a bad plan for a Bronze Age agrarian society.

But, as a Christian, it’s the next passage that interests me more.

6 Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.

As part of the requirement to give the Levites (the religious/political rulers) cities of their own, six of those cities were to be “Cities of Refuge”. When people really screwed up, they could find refuge in the city. Further, the passage dictates that those who flee to the city have full access to the pasture land. The take away from Numbers 35 is that the city God would plan is a place not only of economic development activity, but also second chances.

Lots of cities aspire to be the “city on a hill”. To reach that point we have to think about how we not only design cities to promote and please those at the top of the economic and cultural spectrum, but also those at the bottom and everyone in between. This is one of the primary things I aspire for in my professional and personal life. I want my city to be a place where every hard working person, regardless of their history or background, has a chance to build a good life for themselves. If discussing Dallas specifically, there is a lot that Dallas does very well, and a lot that Dallas does not do well. Regionally, the inequity, waste, and disenfranchisement in North Texas is disheartening.

We can and should strive to do better and to stop making the same decisions that will only serve to continue past mistakes into the next generation. .  

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