Springfield, Ohio — Warren Copeland wears a lot of hats in his professional life. He donned each of them to write Doing Justice In Our Cities, a groundbreaking new book described as "a lively and authoritative look at how one public servant honored his commitment to serve the 65,000 citizens of Springfield, Ohio, without compromising his commitment to serve God."
Copeland, professor of religion, director of urban studies and faculty director of Wittenberg's Center for Civic & Urban Engagement, is the first person elected mayor directly by the voters of Springfield in more than 90 years. He has served the city as a commissioner since 1988 and has served three terms as mayor, covering more than 15 of those years.
In his career, he has studied urban policies and analyzed pressing city issues while also dealing with the realities of everyday life as a politician, all of which provides him with a unique perspective. As far as Copeland knows, he is the only person in America who teaches ethics and is mayor of a city of more than 60,000 people.
"By my nature, I ask questions of an ethical nature about what I'm doing as a politician," Copeland said. "It gives me a unique understanding of the issues."
Released July 20, Doing Justice In Our Cities is Copeland's fourth book. Economic Justice and Issues Of Justice (co-editor) were both published in 1988, while And The Poor Get Welfare was published in 1994. All three of those books have examined religious social ethics.
Copeland said the new book's central thesis is that "the nature of contemporary American cities is itself an ethical problem. We have been sorting ourselves out primarily by income into homogenous neighborhoods, typically leaving behind those with the least amount of money in inner city neighborhoods. That creates problems of urban education, crime – all the things that people think of as negatives in cities."
What Copeland asks his readers to consider is this: how do we make cities mixed income again?
The first part of the book examines the reasons why Copeland entered politics and discusses the situation in Springfield, a city that is in many ways typical in the United States, with many of the same problems seen in large metropolitan areas. Interestingly, Springfield is atypical in some ways because the most affluent neighborhood was located within the city limits for many years, meaning that the community has historically had affluent and lower income people utilizing the same resources and attending the same schools.
The middle part of the book reflects ethically and theologically on the issues and makes arguments for real diversity as a way to organize American cities. The book concludes with details about initiatives taking place in Springfield, including the multi-year project to consolidate the city's two hospitals into one downtown location.
Research conducted in 1997 on Springfield by Wittenberg urban studies faculty with policy expert and author David Rusk, this year's Witt Series-sponsored Opening Convocation speaker, examined how Springfield fit in nationally and led to three key recommendations. They include a comprehensive land use plan for city and county, a win-win annexation plan with Springfield Township and the need for Ohio's state legislature to pass into law policies to facilitate low- and moderate-income housing in suburban areas.
Copeland said that residential patterns are linked to educational results and crime levels. In the last part of the book, he discusses reasons why people leave cities and why they stay. He said schools and safety are paramount.
"I hope I can help readers understand that the revival of cities is important to all Americans and will take changes in both cities and suburbs to be successful," Copeland said.
Written by: Ryan Maurer