When you think of urban design and quality of life, what is the first thing that comes to mind? I would be shocked if your first answer was Pope Francis, but if it is…then great! Growing up, my mom would always tell us as we put the utensils on the table, “remember you don’t talk about religion or politics.” Maybe it’s because both of my parents were involved deeply in both religion and politics, but it was something that always stuck with me. While it’s not the dinner table, we do find it appropriate today to discuss the vision of Pope Francis and his call for all of us as architects and urban designers. Of course, if you have been anywhere near the news, the internet or a smart phone you know that Pope Francis has landed stateside and is making a short five day tour of the United States eastern seaboard starting in Washington DC. During his visit, he will make the first-ever address to Congress and plans call for him to hold a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. We are also certain that during the time he spends with President Barack Obama, he will be sharing some of his priorities and asking what the country plans to do to implement those action items.
Just a few short months ago, Pope Francis called for all architects, urban designers, planners and social developers to “create better cities.” He opened his much-anticipated 2015 encyclical by making an urgent and passionate plea discussing the current state and planned future for cities from rural landscapes to urban centers. He says “We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.” Calling out more than just the typical toxic emissions, the Pope clearly discusses that we must improve our congestion, social exclusion, violence, noise, poor transportation and most importantly, our loss of identity. He goes on to write “In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty.” We have all been guilty of this in the past, not understanding the full impact of the human environment. We want to believe that our design that has been stuck in our heads is the only one that should be constructed, but as the Pope says taking other ideas into consideration are a must in improving the quality of life. It’s exciting to see that one of the most respected leaders in the world has asked us to put an end to our shortsightedness and place an emphasis on creating a better quality of life in all of our designs.
At Hoch Associates, one of our greatest goals in each of our projects is creating #powerfulideas that inspire community. We do more than design a building, we look at the surrounding neighborhood, understand the economic impact, study the market and discuss how the project relates to creating or enhancing a neighborhood. We may have jumped a few years ahead of the industry, but our focus has been to create a better quality of life, no matter the size of the community. We love that Pope Francis said ” Interventions which affect the urban or rural landscape should take into account how various elements combine to form a whole which is perceived by its inhabitants as a coherent and meaningful framework for their lives. Others will then no longer be seen as strangers, but as part of the ‘we’ which all of us are working to create. For the same reason, in both urban and rural settings, it’s helpful to set aside some places which can be preserved and protected from constant changes brought by human intervention.”
From the design of buildings to creation of public transportation, the Pope also discusses how and why it’s important to put a focus on moving people in improved ways. “The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them.” Public transit needs to be improved in all aspects if we hope to reach the majority. Issues with crowding, location of stops, service, lack of safety are just a few pointed issues made by the Pope, who has been photographed many times taking public transit. Ranging from beauty in design to providing proper services for all, not just select portions, our call is create civic spaces that we are proud of as a community and not just a designer. Sites that are usable and function easily are a must for the next generation of designs. Designing communities that are livable, walkable and intensely personal aren’t just an idea but the new way of life. We have already taken this call into action and have used that in our designs from The Reserve At Hamilton Place to The Ash Skyline Project and more. Designs are about creating an identity and a sense of community, we must remember that our spaces influence emotions and actions. We hope that while the Pope has a few moments with President Obama and a few other civic leaders, he reminds them of this opening statements this year in our job to create better cities.