Rod Dreher–Architect Philip Bess on faith, reason, and urban design

Bess has long served as an unlikely apostle to New Urbanists and conservatives alike, neither of whom seem to get the other. He tells New Urbanists that building good neighborhoods is a necessary condition for building good communities, but not a sufficient one: they must integrate their architectural vision with a broader vision of the good life. To put it in an Augustinian way, you can’t build a city fit for man without a vision of the city of God.

“Urbanism is about human flourishing, and human flourishing requires virtues, which are character dispositions that lead toward certain goods. People aren’t passive receivers of urbanism,” he says. “New Urbanists do a lot of things right, but good urbanism is more than bioswales”””environmentally friendly alternatives to storm sewers””“bike lanes, good coffee, and olive oil.”

Yet the bigger challenge, from Bess’s point of view, is to convince conservatives that New Urbanism is something they should embrace. In a 2005 address presenting New Urbanism to the right, Bess made the familiar Aristotelian claim that “the best life for human beings is the life of moral and intellectual excellence lived in community with others.” The built environment is an indispensible foundation for that.

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One comment on “Rod Dreher–Architect Philip Bess on faith, reason, and urban design

  1. Formerly Marion R. says:

    “When New Urbanism emerged in the early 1990s, it made perfect sense to a Catholic humanist like Bess, a Thomist who believes that the purpose of the city is *to provide an environment* in which people can live virtuously”

    The difference with conservatives has to do with who does what to whom. An NU neighborhood is an indicator of rightly ordered relations, not a provider of them.