Calvin College

CALVIN - Minds in the Making

Strengthening Liberal Arts Education by Embracing Place and Particularity

Case Study

Urban Altruism: Learning to Love Our Neighbor(hood)s


In the spring of 2006 I taught a senior-level seminar entitled “Seeking the Welfare of the City: Urban Altruism and Loving our Neighbor(hood)s.”  The course drew students from a range of disciplines including philosophy, sociology, international development, religion, and others.   The focus of the course was to reflect on the “material conditions” of community—that is, how concrete, material aspects such as urban planning, architecture, and other physical aspects of social arrangement either contribute to or detract from “altruism” (which we defined as “other-regarding concern”).  This involved high-level theoretical considerations in philosophy and theology as well as engagements with social science literature on urban and suburban social arrangements. 

A key aspect of the course was a service-learning component which required students to do two things: (1) to serve a community organization in the city with specific interest in fostering other-regarding concern (or “community” in the social sense); and (2) to work as teams to create a specific proposal for a policy or initiative in the city of Grand Rapids that would contribute to community-building in our neighborhoods.   Students presented their initiatives in poster-formats.  We then worked with Rosalynn Bliss, city commissioner for the 2nd Ward, to display the posters at City Hall and thus communicate the proposals to key city leaders.


Next: Transferability