Friday, February 1, 2013

Mission of a City

What is our understanding of what makes a city livable, inviting and great?

SPRAWL REVISITED.  What is the mission, apparent and implicit, of your community?  Recently, I spoke to a group of citizens who are intently studying and discussing the impact of sprawl on the social, economic, and spiritual fabric of Central Indiana.  I was asked to speak, not because I am any authority on the subject, but because sprawl and regional issues and intercommunity cooperation were the focus of my direct work with urban and regional planning.  I shared with them the following quote which, to my mind, has not been surpassed as a guiding mission statement for a city (can we say, for a region or city-state?).

UNITING SCATTERED FRAGMENTS.  "The mission of a city is to put the highest concerns of man (sic) at the center of all their activities: to unite the scattered fragments of the human personality, turning artificially dismembered people into complete human beings, repairing the damage that has been done by vocational separation, by social segregation, by the over-cultivation of a favored function, by tribalisms and nationalisms, by the absence of organic partnerships and ideal purposes."  - Lewis Mumford in The City In History, 1961

TOWARD AN INTEGRATING CENTER.  This is a soulful description of a city's mission and function.  Would that every mayor, city councilor, planning commission member, neighborhood organizer, and corporate investor might take it to heart.  It seems that many city and community ministrations further scatter and fragment the human personality rather than work to unite it to itself and with others.  Start with this description and one will move policy and activity toward an integrating center, toward a community wholeness and public richness that no entrepreneur can manufacture, that no developer can fabricate.

John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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