In this article from New Geography, the faith-based root of current urban planners is examined—and found wanting.
“We're coming to the end of the season when we focus a great deal of attention on faith. What is faith? The Biblical definition calls it the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1, KJV). Humans have the capacity to firmly believe in something that cannot be explained by reason and is not visibly evident. Faith is the basis of the world's major religions, and often is a cause for war, and today, terrorism. But though the season of faith may be winding down, there is still a place where faith remains strong year round: It is often the basis of the way we plan our communities.
“Over the past two decades, our city planning has become faith based. A new preacher has evolved in the form of the Architect or Planner who evangelizes to the congregation that they can all live in serenity if they have faith in the teachings. Their sermons of architectural commandments introduce dimensional ratios that can deliver a utopian existence, promising a wonderland for families.
“To enforce faith, you of course need an evil entity to oppose. The evil entity in the faith of land planning is The Suburbs. Those that believe in the suburbs are inherently evil and must be converted or they may spend eternity dammed to a cul-de-sac. The automobile is sacrificed on this altar, with the chant "Space – Space – Space".
“Converts to this faith include many if not most, politicians (not just liberals), architects, planners, environmentalists, movie stars, and many in the press. Those that have not converted yet include land developers, builders, city council and planning commission members, and the majority of the home buying market.
“Some of the principles this faith are as follows:
•Thou shalt build upon thy dwelling a porch of such magnitude that it can serve as a gathering place.
•Thou shalt construct a path of 2 cubits (approximately 4 feet) wide near thy porch for followers to meet and pray that a cul-de-sac shall not influence thy offspring.
•A place for chariots shall be placed upon the buttocks of thy dwelling. Thy chariot must not be nearer to the dwelling than 4 cubits or thee will be smitten.
•Thou shall plant a tree half a cubit from thy curb and in front of thy porch.
•Create a place for gathering no farther than 600 cubits from thy dwelling.
•Thy dwelling shall have Craftsman trim.
•The path to heaven is taken by bicycle, light rail, or walking, not by powered chariot.
•A congregant must dwell in extreme closeness to thy neighbor.
“Myself? I’m a disbeliever; a heretic who thinks there is no place in the design of our cities and neighborhoods for this belief system to be regulated or enforced. If development companies are believers, then by all means let them develop their land in such a manner, as they will have the faith that homes will sell to those that also believe.
“The danger arises when Federal funding is tied to the faith, on the basis that developments of extreme density will surely result in less vehicular miles traveled and a more healthy environment for human creatures. Do not follow this faith, and good luck getting funded. Is this the American way?
“I do not believe the automobile is evil, and I'm thankful that I live in an era where I can think nothing of traveling 20, 30, 40 miles or even 400 miles. A hundred years ago my ancestors had no such luxury.
“I am thankful that I live in a place that offers a sense of space, yet is not too distant from neighbors and services. I am especially thankful for choice. Yes, there is a coffee shop about a 10 minute walk away, but a three minute drive will get me to a coffee shop that offers more tasty drinks at lower costs.”