One of the key challenges in planning and developing our cities is establishing good processes where the social, cultural, and spiritual insight of faith-based organizations can meaningfully and helpfully contribute to structural planning processes of urban development. Attempting to attend to this institutional engagement “after the fact” leads to miscommunication and conflict when the plan doesn’t fit the needs of deep community building.
Toronto’s former Poet Laureate (and author of Municipal Mind) Pier Giorgio di Cicco was even more elegant in an address to the Yale University School of Architecture:
“The onus in the 21st century will not be ‘diversity of culture,’ but ‘diversity of spirituality.’ . . . It will behoove the architect, the planner to design public space that mediates the spiritual instinct to communality and transcendence. . . . The effect of architecture and space on the entire person, in the advent and presence of other persons is universal. It gentles the civic creature. It can gentle disparate cultures and peoples by the vocabulary of the sublime, bringing them to the point of awe, gratitude and mutuality by shared space, making such space sacred.”
Faith-based organizations nurture people’s most deeply held beliefs, sanctify their lives’ most vital relationships, and comfort their deepest pains and most profound sorrows. They are where, since the dawn of history, people have gathered, seeking answers to life’s big questions: Why are we here? What is the universe? And, even for those who do not share their faith, they act, as the Cardus/Arlington report pointed out, as incubators of commonly held social virtues. Similar to the aesthetic influence of the arts on a community, their impact on the culture that surrounds them is felt and is of benefit to even those who never, or rarely, enter them.