Friday, July 24, 2015

Urbanist Exhortations from Vatican City

Those who have followed this blog for awhile, and who are adept at reading between the lines, know that I’m not a big fan of organized religion.  I don’t object to folks who go to church weekly, but it’s not how I’m wired.

I believe in following Golden Rule, the one element that is common to most religions.  Indeed, I’d describe my commitment to this blog, and my advocacy for the issues into which the blog this leads me, as an example of my application of the Golden Rule.  But once a religion moves even a half-step past the Golden Rule, I find that the resulting discussions of dogma quickly sap my interest and even my wakefulness.

However, I still believe that religious leaders can offer thoughts of profound wisdom on secular matters.  Over the years, both the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu have taken secular positions which I heartily endorsed.

So I had hopes for the recent encyclical from Pope Francis on environmental issues.  He didn’t disappoint.  Indeed, he far exceeded my hopes.

To begin, I don’t suggest that anyone actually read the encyclical.  The Vatican City wordsmiths are even worse than me at making their points efficiently.  However, I do recommend opening the link and skipping around a bit.  I did so and was surprised how every place I landed quickly resulted in me nodding my head in agreement.

Instead, I recommend the comments in Better Cities & Towns, first by CNU President and CEO Lynn Richards and then by Ben Brown of Placemakers.  Both do a good job of connecting the dots between the encyclical and the real world initiatives that are trying to implement the concepts proposed in the encyclical, Richards more on the urbanist side and Brown more on the environmental side.

To me, the most important point made by Pope Francis is that living in a more compact settlement pattern to reduce our environmental impact is good and essential, but not nearly enough.  In his view, we need also to make those compact places function so that the residents can lead happy and productive lives.

The Pontiff might as well have been reading directly from the urbanism playbook.

Let me be the first to suggest Pope Francis as a plenary speaker at CNU 24 in Detroit next June.  I’d pay extra to hear that speech.

Next time, I’ll write about how New York City’s Vision Zero program to reduce fatalities among pedestrians and bicyclists has grown to include advocacy for fewer left turns.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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