Tuesday, September 19, 2006

If suburbia were a country

Last Saturday I took my mom to the airport, and she has been reading my book but hasn't finished it yet. She asked me why I went into so much detail about the history and sociology of suburban culture. I said something like, "Well, if you were going to be a missionary in Africa, you'd study African history and culture. If you were going on a mission trip to India, you'd learn all you can about India. Same thing with suburbia. If we're going to be missional Christians here, we should understand as much as we can about suburban history and culture."

That actually made me wonder how suburbia would rank if it were its own country. So I just Googled the most populous countries, and here's what came up (mid-2005 estimates):

1 China - 1,306,313,812
2 India - 1,080,264,388
3 United States - 295,734,134
4 Indonesia - 241,973,879
5 Brazil - 186,112,794
6 Pakistan - 162,419,946
7 Russia - 143,782,338
8 Bangladesh - 141,340,476
9 Nigeria - 137,253,500
10 Japan - 127,417,200

By the 1990s, over half of the population of the US lived in suburbia. The population of the US is projected to hit 300 million this October, so let's give a ballpark estimate that some 150 million Americans live in suburbia. That means that American suburbia, if it were its own country, would rank as the seventh largest country in the world!

Add Canadian suburbia, or Australian or whatnot, and the ranking would be even higher. There's no question that the world is urbanizing and that the majority of the world is living in metropolitan centers. What isn't always noticed is that the suburban slice of that metropolitan whole is huge. Without minimizing the need for global ministry everywhere, I don't think it's too huge a stretch to say that suburbia may well be one of the most strategic mission fields of the 21st century.


Missional Jerry said...

We must understand our history first - and then we must understand where we are - then where are we going, but mostly we must understand where the church "ought to be."

Phil Hoover said...

But if "suburbia" were a country, what would be their priorities? Would it be the same as most of "western Civilization":

Privacy, mobility, and convenience?

How would we "evangelize" suburbia?

How would we preach, teach, encourage and maintain "spiritual community" in suburbia?

Just a few questions...

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the recent book, Al. Long time, no chat. May God continue to bless your service.

modorney said...

Great book (I've only read the first chapter!, now I gotta go buy it!)

How much is Canadian/Australian suburbia like US suburbia? In Canada, mortgage interest is not deductible, I don't know about Aussie taxes (help me please).

In Canada, at least Toronto, lots of good public schools and lots of good kid-friendly apartments abound. Unlike American cities.

Al Hsu said...

Mike O - Simon Holt (his blog is Simply Simon) is an Australian, and his blog has recently reviewed a number of suburbia-related books. Simon says that Australia is even more suburban than the United States, in terms of land use and development patterns. Canada seems to be quite similar as far as geography goes, but I'm not sure about the economic issues involved. (Toronto is one of my favorite cities - I have cousins there, and I've always been very impressed with Toronto's mass transit and cosmopolitan feel.)