Friday, January 6th, 2012

Faith and City Planning

Polis, a secular urbanist blog, recently put out a fascinating podcast on faith and city planning. It’s a discussion between two MIT urban planning professors, Annette Kim and Phil Thompson. It’s really great listen. As Polis notes:

The connections between faith and city planning are undeniable. Faith-based groups rebuild areas after disasters, they develop affordable housing plans, and they help the poor. Additionally, the social movements that have most profoundly changed society, like the Civil Rights Movement, were guided by faith.

Yet planning education generally does not deal with faith. “It’s this whole realm, and we come up against it all the time, but we keep ignoring it,” said Annette Kim, a professor at MIT. This podcast is a conversation between Kim and her colleague, Professor Phil Thompson, on the relationship between faith and planning. Should the study of faith traditions and values be part of a planning education?

If the podcast doesn’t display for you, please click here.

The original Polis blog post for this was tiny, and I basically quoted the whole thing, so let me make it up to them by encouraging you to check out the blog. What I like about this blog is how it covers a very different territory than I do, and notably has a very global flavor. This makes it very enlightening for me personally. Give them a look.

Religion and the City
Will Sagrada Família Be Mankind’s Last Ever Great Artistic Statement for God?
Desolation Angel

Topics: Urban Culture


4 Responses to “Faith and City Planning”

  1. Tee R. says:

    I can definitely see the value in this. During the Middle Ages, churches were the often became dominant buildings in the city or village, and became signature public spaces. It’s the reason some European churches are so enormous.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing this! Here is a link to two related articles posted a few days ago on CoLab Radio:

  3. Thanks for posting this link. The conversation gave me a little hope in the midst of a bleak Winter here in the city.

  4. Greg Frech says:

    I am a newby to your blog. I found this recent post somewhat rambling. Overnight I reflected on the podcast – that calls attention to the power of community belief/faith as a factor in the agenda of community planning. I now think I see something worth a comment, here goes:

    This podcast makes the point that the resiliency to recover from “place stress” can be greatly influenced by the collective religious faith of the inhabitants. “Place stress” (my label) can be related to recovery from natural disasters, social persecution and/or the political pressure to adjust to new community pattern of living. It asserts that planners are not trained in how to consider faith and its concurrent visual hope for the future as a part of the formula for suggesting physical improvements to the community.

    This idea did not make much sense to me until I started thinking how the physical form of Salt Lake City was significantly influenced by the shared religious fervor of its original settlers. Brigham Young, president of the Church of the Ladder Day Saints, lead his followers to the Salt Lake City valley, declaring upon seeing it for the first time: “This is the right place.” Reportedly, within just four days of arrival, he designated the building site for the Salt Lake Temple.

    The Salt Lake Temple, constructed on the block that would later be called Temple Square, took 40 years to complete. The temple has become the icon for the city and serves as its centerpiece to this day. In fact, the southeast corner of Temple Square is the initial point of reference for the Salt Lake Meridian, and for all the street names and addresses in Salt Lake Valley.

    Another example:

    State history is typically a part of the curriculum for fourth graders, as it was for me growing up in California. We studied the 21 California missions, established by the Spanish Franciscan priests in the late 1700’s to colonize the Pacific Coast frontier and spread the Catholic faith among the Native Americans. It was an early introduction for me to architectural styles of buildings as we were required to make a notebook containing a color free-hand drawing of each of the missions.

    Visiting some of the original mission structures that are still standing today it is possible to visualize the lifestyle and settlement patterns that were constructed to educate the Indian population to European culture and language as well as introduce farming and ranching as a means of livelihood. I have not imagined faith based philosophy as a consideration in planning strategies until deliberating on the meaning of the podcast.

    My eyes are now open to seeing places where faith-based religion has played a significant role in the development pattern of a community. Once I was privileged to attend a Sunday service in the Methodist Church in Philipsburg, St. Marrten, where attendance was standing room only though every attendee had walked to the church from their respective neighborhoods.

    If it is part of the New Urbanism agenda to encourage settlement patterns that do not depend on automobile transportation for shopping, education, and entertainment how much more compelling is it that there is a faith-based consideration to new community planning. It is a point would worth listening. Thanks for the post.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures