Thursday, April 13, 2006


You may not recognize which city this is, but it's distinctly American

Paul Grenier and Tim Patitsas ask "Why are good cities such a rarity in America? Why are so many of our cities and towns lifeless and ugly—and hard to love? What are they missing? It’s the spirit of the liturgy"

Grenier and Patitsas of Godspy make a great point and one which should be more obvious to many of us...

For that matter, not much of anything is reassuring about America's approach to building and rebuilding its cities. Whether New Orleans manages to rise again or not—and let's hope it does—the painful fact will remain that most American cities and pseudo-cities are uninspiring at best. Many are simply awful.

I agree. The United States is the envy of the world in many respects but when it comes to city building, its legacy is abysmal. The cities that have seen the most rapid growth in the last half-century are the worst off of all beneficiaries of urban planning, American style. It is hard to find a sense of community, cohesiveness, and even a core when one visits these new sprawling, sterile blobs of development.

The authors argue that American cities are increasingly pointless and banal because they lack a spirit one would find in Prague or Paris.

Exactly what is that spirit? It's the spirit of the liturgy.
Urban planners, architects, economists and geographers have long been fascinated by the work of Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander. But so far they have missed an important—perhaps the most important—feature of their work. Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander have unwittingly demonstrated that cities—or at any rate humane ones—are essentially liturgical.

What does it mean for something to be 'liturgical'?

I thought about these words when I recently read an article about a proposed new development in downtown Phoenix (a city that has been sapped of its vitality by outlying communities like Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale and Casa Grande). The Arizona Republic reported that,

A massive downtown Phoenix revitalization proposal has expanded from two to three blocks in size, added a hotel and nearly doubled in cost to roughly $900 million. And it now has the backing of Mayor Phil Gordon.
"What mayor wouldn't be ecstatic?" Gordon said. "It's (nearly) $1 billion worth of private capital investment . . . It reaffirms the city of Phoenix and downtown is the place to be."
While plenty of details remain to be worked out, including a taxpayers' subsidy, the project calls for four high-rise towers up to 500 feet, 1,200 residential condominium units and 100,000 square feet for a public plaza. It would take at least five years to build.

Economic forces are powerful and it is hard to know how to integrate a commodity Grenier and Patitsas find precious, time.

I think that cities must do more to weave mixed-use developments into their downtown areas. There must be a hub that everyone feels connected to. America has abandoned public transportation in the last few years while cities like New Delhi and Shanghai are giddily building new, gleaming subway metro lines.

The arguments and points made by the authors at Godspy go beyond what I try to contribute. Read their entire article and learn more about the interesting theory about the "liturgy of the city street."

Check out: The Liturgy of the City Street By Paul Grenier and Tim Patitsas

Tip o' the hat: Prof. Richard Garnett of the blog, Mirror of Justice: Urbanism, again: "The Liturgy of the City Street"

Also, Arizona Republic: Enormous 'CityScape' will span 3 downtown blocks

Update: April 23, Prof. Garnett elicits a response from Philip Bess


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