Who knew that Pope Francis was an urbanist?
I’m not a Catholic and only occasionally follow news out of the Vatican, but I was taken by reports that Pope Francis had commented on driving habits during his most recent New Year’s Eve homily. As reported in the press, Francis — who is also the Bishop of Rome — included the following in his remarks:
“’I feel gratitude in my soul, thinking about the people who live with open hearts in the city,’ Francis said. As examples of that spirit, the pope began with a for-instance that will echo the frustrations of many a Roman resident – ‘those people,’ he said, ‘who move in traffic with good sense and prudence.’ By consensus, the poor state of maintenance on Rome’s roads, the lack of accessible public parking, and the city’s paralyzing traffic, are among the top complaints from locals….
The pope then went on to cite other examples of heroism from the silent majority. He praised ‘those who respect public places, and report things that aren’t right; those who are attentive to the elderly, and people in difficulty; and so on,’ Francis said. ‘These and a thousand other behaviors express concretely love for the city,’ the pope said, adding that they come ‘without giving speeches, without publicity, but with a style of practical civic education for daily life. In this way, they cooperate silently for the common good,’ the pope said.”
Helping to ensure that the places where we live contribute to community life has been a part of my work through the years as a preservationist. In an earlier note commenting on the sign in a coffee shop window to “Be Civil, Be Urban,” I suggested that how we live and work together is a key to productivity, learning, growth, and happiness. Civility is—unfortunately—in short supply in much of our national and international discourse today. I think Pope Francis was making a similar point, but with his optimistic point of view that millions are moving together with “good sense and prudence.”
It is Holy Week on the Christian calendar, so a reference to the teachings of Pope Francis—even on how we live together in cities—isn’t that far-fetched. However, if you are uncomfortable getting your urbanist insights from a world religious leader, you can always turn to the natural world. Because they give each other a lot of headway, which buys them more time to react to any incidents up ahead, “ants don’t get stuck in traffic jams.” Living and working together has its challenges, especially in these times of heated political divisions, but we can take heart in the lessons learned from the teachings of a pope or from the navigation styles of some of the smallest creatures on the planet.
Wishing you a week of civility, productivity, love for the people and places where you live and work…and no traffic jams.
More to come…