<< Previous | 4 of 15 | Next >>

Regular Columns

Can we renew our cities in a Christian way?

I have a great love for cities; especially London, where I was born and bred. However, despite their attractiveness as major centres of cultural and intellectual activity, when we consider the UK’s soaring urban crime rates and the relatively higher incidences of self-harm and suicide in our cities, it’s clear that something has gone seriously wrong. Last year, in our urban cities and towns, there were 34.7 recorded acts of violent crime per 1,000 population, compared to 6.8 in rural areas. Additionally, there were more than double the number of vehicle offences per 1,000 in predominantly urban areas, when compared to predominantly rural areas. While social scientists have discovered an exponential relationship between population density and both deprivation and the crime rate, unravelling the underlying causes – and, more importantly, potential cures – has proven far more difficult. Frederic Le Play was a celebrated 19th-century French sociologist, engineer and economist, who, in his twenties, was converted to Christ from atheism. He was also the first scholar to investigate shifts in family configurations systematically. His ability to speak five languages and understand eight facilitated his extensive surveys of working-class families in different European, North American, Asian, North-African and Asian countries. Although a pioneering technologist, one of the key findings from his 1855 publication ‘Les ouvriers européens’ (‘European workers’) was that, despite the benefits of industry and urban development, the major social upheaval that they caused had resulted in smaller nuclear families replacing traditional extended families. He also explained that the resultant loss of intergenerational ties (including moral and religious traditions) had led to moral decay.

Comment David Shepherd
Figure Image

Despite this evidence, Le Play’s findings were keenly contested by some of the 20th century’s leading sociologists, until his position was eventually vindicated by later studies.