Thursday, November 16, 2006

After Urbanism: The Strange Bedfellows of Neo-Traditional Architecture and Town Planning

What is the physical form of genuine human community? This was the question explored by Professor Philip Bess in his fall 2006 Schmitt Lecture, entitled “After Urbanism: The Strange Bedfellows of Neo-Traditional Architecture and Town Planning.” Professor Bess’s answer to the question took the form of what he deemed a natural law: human beings should make mixed-use neighborhoods with pedestrian proximity of all activities central to daily life. The home, the school, the place of business, the place of worship, venues for recreation and shopping, all should be accessible within the half-mile radius of a ten-minute, parentchild walk. For only in such neighborhoods, Professor Bess argued, can the virtues of social and political community flourish.

Professor Bess delivered his Schmitt Lecture on Wednesday afternoon, November 15th, to a large and appreciative audience in the main auditorium of Notre Dame’s McKenna Hall. Using an engaging PowerPoint presentation, he vividly contrasted the features of what he called “traditional urbanism” with the dominant form of contemporary urban architecture, namely, “sprawl.” In sprawl, segregation reigns: homes, places of work, worship, recreation, and shopping are all segregated from one another, making the automobile a virtual necessity for most urban dwellers. Th is compartmentalization of the activities of modern life, according to Professor Bess, fosters an individualism inimical to the development of genuine human community. Professor Bess’s presentation took the Schmitt Lecture Series into exciting new territory. In answering the charge of the series—the exploration of the ethical, political and religious dimensions of science and technology—he reminded us that the physical form of how we live is not just incidentally related to our moral, political and spiritual well-being.

The Center was especially pleased to welcome several of Notre Dame’s Schmitt Fellows to Professor Bess’s lecture, as well as to the reception and dinner that followed. Th e Schmitt Fellows are graduate students in Notre Dame’s Schools of Science and Engineering who are the principal recipients of the generosity of the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation to the University of Notre Dame. It was for the sake of honoring that generosity that the Schmitt Lecture Series was founded.

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