How Pope Francis' Laudato Si Relates to City Planning - Father Alejandro Crostwaithe

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si is an urgent call to humanity to become aware of the negative and immoral impact bad city-making has on the planet, and on humans. The Pope, explained Father Alejandro Crosthwaite at his presentation at the 53rd IMCL Conference in Rome, calls for a global initiative, to reach across national borders and give topmost priority to the preservation of our ‘common home’.

Laudato Si calls urban planners to integrate city design with the natural environment and with people’s quality of life. The Pope asks us to pay special attention to the poor and the excluded in our cities.

Many of our cities have become unlivable, observes the Pope, due not only to air, audio and visual pollution, inadequate public transportation, traffic gridlocks, segregation, inequality and violence, but also because there is a marked loss of identity, a silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion. So not only do we see physical destruction, but we also see a destruction of the bonds that unite humanity.

In Pope Francis’ words: “Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities… We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.”

The Pope calls for us to interweave nature and the built environment; this is important both for the health of nature and of humanity. He urges city planners and architects to “understand people’s thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting. It is not enough to seek the beauty of design.” He calls for an urban development process, in dialogue with city dwellers, that creates a public realm that supports social life and human encounter. “There is also a need to protect those common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of “feeling at home” within a city which includes us and brings us together.”

“Authentic development” asserts the Pope, “includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives. These settings influence the way we think, feel and act. In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighborhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity. We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.”

This ecological encyclical also addresses the transportation crisis in our modern cities. The prevalence of a worldwide car culture is the cause of traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy, and a disproportionate amount of urban land. But substantial improvements in safety, convenience, frequency, affordability and comfort must be made in the public transportation systems in order to make them acceptable to a driving society.

The problem of human housing is also addressed by Laudato Si, as well as the moral obligation city planners have not to exclude the poor from urban development. As the Pope states: “In some places, where makeshift shanty towns have sprung up, this will mean developing those neighborhoods rather than razing or displacing them.”

“The deterioration of the natural environment and of society has especially negative consequences on the poor. This is aggravated by the privatization of certain spaces of beauty”, as well as by gated communities created “to ensure an artificial tranquility”.

As Father Crosthwaite explains, the Pope “calls all to integrate environmental ecology, and city planning, with human ecology… This holistic, sustainable, ecological call must include a true ecological conversion, and not just an ecological awareness”.

 

A true green approach must always take into consideration a social approach.

“It must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.