Philip Bess: Cities shaped by love

In an essay with the provocative title, “Bring me my arrows of desire: cities shaped by love,” Gayle Doornbos writes a review of Philip Bess’s book, “Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred.”

For those who are unaware, Bess is a Notre Dame architecture professor who spoke to a Fort Wayne audience about urban design and sustainable development last month.

Doornbos begins her essay with dreams: Where do you dream of living?

Here are excerpts:

Bess’s gambit challenges us to reevaluate the current state of our cities, how we think about urbanism and the suburbs, and our visions of the good life. For him, a vision of the good life is paramount. It is not enough to merely have good design. Philip Bess argues that good city-building cannot be reduced to design. Good design aids flourishing and can reflect flourishing, but it cannot by itself create sense of community, a neighbourhood, or even a good city. …

… Bess’s work calls us to restore Christian thought about the city in a time when Christians have appropriately fought for justice in cities but neglected to develop sophisticated frameworks about the specific structure, design, policy, and theology that constitutes a good city. Finally, we must recapture the old Christian idea that architecture shapes the fabric of a city — it is not inconsequential to faith or to building community and place — belonging and identity in a broken world. Community, belonging, and cities must aspire to reflect this vision of good city life. “Our greatest cities,” writes Bess, “are products of love. Cities should be shaped and driven by the dream of a world made new.”

Read the essay here.

Also, Books & Culture magazine reviews his book here. Below is an excerpt:

Designs for a good urban experience, Bess explains, would take into consideration the ecological, economic, moral, and formal well-being of a neighborhood. Whether on the outskirts of a city or in the urban core, each neighborhood would enjoy “a walkable and mixed-use human environment wherein many if not most of the necessities and activities of daily human life are within a five- to ten-minute walk for persons of all ages and economic classes.” Such neighborhoods would embody the best social and aesthetic features of historic urban life, and to bring this vision to fruition would be to occasion human flourishing. Good urban planning is good theology.

Read the Books & Culture review here.

Photo courtesy of calm a llama down

A conservative case for urbanism

I plan on posting information and news about Philip Bess in advance of his lecture on April 16 at the downtown library.

In that spirit, I found this review at Campus Magazine Online of Bess’ book, “Till We Have Found Jerusalem.”

Those who are politically conservative are rightly suspicious of new-fangled sounding ideas about city planning — in fact, the phrase “city planning” sounds utopian and liberal. But in an excerpt from his book, Bess makes the conservative case for urbanism. Here’s a small quote:

(T)he essential New Urbanist argument is simply that the physical form of cities matters to human wellbeing, that there are observable and repeatable physical patterns of traditional human settlement-making that have served human beings well over long periods of time, and that therefore these physical patterns of human settlement ought to be studied, extended, and improved rather than abandoned to the current legal and cultural regime of sprawl that often prohibits and almost always discourages good urban design.

Then he proposes “an unofficial New Urbanist creed for cultural conservatives”:

  • We believe that individuals have both rights and obligations, that individual well-being requires good communities, and that liberty is not license.
  • We believe that individuals should have as much freedom as justice allows.
  • We affirm the political principle of subsidiarity, which holds that political decisions for the common good should be made at and through the smallest and most local institutional levels possible.
  • We believe that the Urban Transect as a principle both promotes and accounts for the widest possible variety of free, just, and environmentally sustainable human settlements.
  • We contend that traditional towns and urban neighborhoods demonstrate historically that they both support and are supported by the free exchange of material goods and ideas, including private property.
  • We profess traditional urbanism in all its manifestations through the Urban Transect as the best way for human beings to organize and make human settlements.
  • We fight for those who desire to live in compact, diverse, walkable communities, in the proximity of open landscape and a public realm of plazas, squares, and pedestrian-friendly streets.
  • We fight for the legal right to build traditional towns and neighborhoods. We hope and believe that the merits of traditional towns and neighborhoods, manifest in various specific local forms, will cause traditional urbanism to once again someday prevail as a cultural norm.
  • We work for the common good now, and for the common good of future generations.

I’ve ordered the book — it’s sadly not available at the county library, although his book on baseball stadiums is — and I hope to be able to comment on it before his lecture.

Mark your calendars: His lecture is 6 p.m. April 16 at the downtown library.

Bonhoeffer and responsibility

lifetogetherI’m getting inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s “Life Together,” and I have yet to get beyond the introduction.

Here are two quotes from the book’s intro that ring true:

“The sin of respectable people reveals itself in flight from responsibility.” — Bonhoeffer’s friend Eberhard Bethge

“For him Christianity could never be merely intellectual theory, doctrine divorced from life, or mystical emotion, but always it must be responsible, obedient action, the discipleship of Christ in every situation of concrete everyday life, personal and private.” — “Life Together” translator John W. Doberstein