Faith and the Future of Suburbia?
It’s December, a season of extra emphasis on issues of many faiths. That’s got me thinking on Faith’s role in the shaping our future landscape. Faith has been the driving force behind icons of landscape architecture for millenia, from the placement of the Pyramids, to the emergence of the cloister garth, to the chahar-bagh, to the imperial lines of Versailles.
Versailles is interesting because while it symbolizes the divine power of the Sun King, the precision math and science underlying its construction mark a shift toward the Age of Enlightenment which, if you’ll permit me to fast forward several centuries through the Industrial Revolution, culminates in the 20th century Mondernist Movement, Fordism, and the International Style. These phenomena, with their emphasis on efficiency, mass production, and consumption gave us suburbia and the contemporary American landscape.
So where was faith in the 20th century? Its familial focus and personal humility were just a quiet undercurrent compared to the eagerness for all things bigger, faster, and better. In fact, many thinkers of the mid 20th century predicted faith would all but disappear by the new millenium. Futurama and Smell-o-Vision were the world of tomorrow.
But now is the era of peak oil. Many consider suburbia unviable in the long-term and have rejected its ironic inefficiency and cold impersonality of post-war living. Paralleling this shift, America appears to be in the midst of a fourth Great Awakening and returning to traditional religious values of community and family. This movement is also characterized by an ecclesiastical rejection of many scientific postulates and, in turn, the underlying principles of reason.
So if America is once again placing faith over logic, and suburbia was the defining landscape of reason, then is faith ringing the death bell for suburbia? I may be unreasonably reaching for the links between these movements, but it’s pretty easy for me to imagine a sales brochure for a new-urbanist development that says, “Walk to school, walk to shop, AND walk to church.”