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

Philip Bess: Good cities are like pizzas

During his lecture last week, Philip Bess mentioned a tasty metaphor for good urban living.

Comparing a city to a pizza is the idea of Leon Krier, whom Bess calls the most influential traditional urbanist of our time. As Bess says in his book, “Till We Have Built Jerusalem”:

A neighborhood is to the larger city what a slice of pizza is to the whole pie: a part that contains within itself the essential qualities and elements of the whole. In the case of a city made of neighborhoods, this means that a neighborhood contains within walkable proximity to one another places to live, work, play, learn and worship.

Within the legal boundaries of a postwar suburb, by contrast, the elements of the “pizza” are physically separated and at some distance from one another — as if the crust is here, the sauce over there, the cheese someplace else, and the pepperoni way out yonder.

Bess was careful to point out that such pizza-like, mixed-use neighborhoods do not eliminate the use of cars or public transportation. Maybe you live in one neighborhood and work in the next. But mixed-use neighborhoods do eliminate the necessity of driving for every single need that arises.

One of the panel members said that the average suburbanite makes 14 automobile trips every day. Imagine living in a neighborhood in which you could cut that number in half. That would allow you to not only save money on gas, but also to stay more connected to your own neighborhood — and your own neighbors.

— drawing by Leon Krier, from Philip Bess’ “Till We Have Built Jerusalem”