The Sacred Cul-de-Sac: Lakewood

17 thoughts on “The Sacred Cul-de-Sac: Lakewood”

  1. Wow, really fascinating stuff. There’s quite a story to be told behind the banal landscapes we move through every day. I’m especially fascinated by the way development in Lakewood has evolved to defy the deeply ingrained suburban ethos against density defended by the likes of Joel Kotkin and his demographer accolyte, Wendell Cox. That the chipboard and stone veneer duplexes pushing up like mushrooms basically constitutes a recreation of brownstone Brooklyn is a striking observation that hadn’t occurred to me till I reflected on the images in your photos. They made me consider the lag between what people want and how they live, and the laws that define how they can realize those desires; the former always outracing by far the latter. Our polical-municipal planning process punishes foresight. Most disconcerting to me is the ugliness of it all, and the fact that the density, which I would otherwise support, isn’t accompanied by a supportive urbanism. Instead, one gets this anonymous sprawl of identikit hovels of dubious quality, no Main Street, no public realm, no distinction, and precious little left for the person who isn’t a member of the dominant tribe. But this is what most people want. Sigh.

    1. Howard, I was just in Levittown, PA last week – built in 1951 it was the second of the original Levittowns after the 1947 development built on Long Island in NY. Blog posts to come.

  2. Feliz Yom Kippur from Reno, NV. My very gentile children attend the best preschool here in the biggest little city which happens to be run by Orthodox Jews. Similar brilliant use of buildings (the preschool is on the ground floor and the synagogue upstairs). Also because they keep Kosher, its the only preschool that serves healthy food to all of the kids – busy moms agree, it’s great!

    America is really a wonderful place for minority religious communities. It leaves me quite jealous. What sort of cultural arrangements of any heft can a “white cis male” ascribe to – or should we just go on being “individuals” until the low birth rates and opioids run their course?

      1. Howard,

        My father was a later-in-life convert to the evangelical movement and I dabbled in it during high school. I have a complicated view of evangelicals role in American life. I would give the evangelicals high marks for their romantic zeal towards confronting people during a time of personal crisis (something main line Protestants are too shy to do). I think the evangelicals share a similar outlook with this blog and Jim Kunstler that “not all is well in the soul of America”. So they are one of the few movements in my part of the world that realizes that there is a crisis and it is nested at the individual level. Kudos to that!

        However the evangelicals are devoutly postmodern. They do not want to create any cultural apartus that can support the faith of people in their daily lives. They envision a church where everyone is sustained by the “love of Jesus” and a wave of conversions will roll across the landscape with this mystical force. It’s unsustainable across time and that is why they are prone to messianic dreams. They are hoping that the finish line is in sight on this crazy sprint they have jumped into.

        I’m more interested in the Mormons. As Andres Duany said, “they founded 800 towns across the west and none of them failed.” Their large family sizes belay a sense of hope for the future and they can even agree on what type of underpants to wear.

        More fundamentally, I’m of the belief that in this time of great wealth and leisure we should be binding ourselves against the forces of isolation. We need more coherent families, churches, and villages. And we need a sense of virtue and duty to protect these little institutions. These Orthodox Jews apparently practice a faith that translates this sentiment into real life.

        1. I will add, if you are indeed looking, that you may want to look into the Orthodox (sometimes called Eastern Orthodox) Church. They are small (non-Protestant so not mainstream American, so to speak), with strong commitments to family and communion. How they interact with the community that surrounds them will, of course, depend on the individual parish. There are also a number of monasteries throughout the U.S. worth visiting to deepen your walk with God.

      2. I’d love to see a megachurch go all in on urbanism. A church is perfect to anchor a place. Rather than a parking lot, it should be surrounded by housing, so people can walk to church on Sunday – and walk to each others houses afterwards, and during the week too. If the church has a school attached (and why not?), the students can walk there, rather than having to get up early to catch the bus or be driven. The church could even have attached almshouses for the support of the poor of the parish.

        Any from-scratch urbanism in today’s America will need to be of an intermediate form that allows for car-lite existence, but that’s not actually that hard to do if people don’t demand two cars each. You can still have your single-family detached residence, just without a giant front lawn and two car garage.

        I don’t know what the best governance structure would be for it, though. Direct church ownership seems fraught with problems. A donut shaped HOA? Straightforward incorporation?

  3. Fascinating essay, thanks. Looks like these days, Orthodox Jews drive just as much as the rest of us, just not to synagogue or anyplace else on the sabbath?

    1. Lakewood is the land of minivans. I’ve never see so many in such giant herds! There are as many kinds of Jews as Christians: Norwegian Lutherans, Pilipino Catholics, Baptists in Alabama… The Orthodox in Lakewood look to be in the “Mennonite” zone. They use modern technology where it suits them, but draw a hard line on the Sabbath. Many observant Jews use little tricks like lights set on timers. The “shabbos goy” is a longstanding tradition – a non Jew is asked (during the work week) to perform certain tasks during the sabbath that Jews themselves can’t. I wonder how they keep their kids – or themselves – from using cell phones and the interwebs after sundown on Friday and all Saturday. Is there an app for that?

      1. I had to laugh at this. I immediately thought of “black bumper Amish”…really Mennonites who owned and drove cars as long as there was no chrome showing.

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