Ritual as urban design problem

Kavanagh identifies several influences weakening the urban Church as civitas. The many churches developed many different liturgies, resulting in what he calls “liturgical hypertrophy.” These were flattened and standardized, shrunk to centrally-manageable size and legible doctrinal authority, by the English Act of Uniformity of 1549 and the Council of Trent by 1614. At the same time, printed books ushered in the new literary consciousness, eroding the power of community ritual consciousness for European Christians.
But ancient religious practices (and their modern elaborations) are still performed in Europe; processions may still be seen winding through the streets of cities and small towns. Except for the occasional Palm Sunday procession, they are all but absent in the United States. The American urban design pattern — increasingly spreading even to small towns — is forbidding to the kind of religious practice that transforms space and time.
The American urban design pattern is characterized by, first, an orientation toward the automobile above all else; second, toward consumption as the main activity besides work; and third, toward efficient human storage. Human activities other than consumption and “being stored” – as in day cares, schools, prisons, offices, nursing homes, and “housing units” themselves – are made difficult and uncomfortable by the physical built environment itself. Religious activity and social activity, two main components of human flourishing that transform local environments, are increasingly rare and emptied of transformative power.

From a great piece at Front Porch Republic by Sarah Perry, whose work I've appreciated wherever it shows up online.

Many people are excited about all the free time self-driving cars might return to people, but I'm more excited to reclaim all the physical space currently dedicated to parking garages, parking spots on the side of the road, and roads themselves. If you had more self-driving cars in operation at all hours, you'd have fewer idle cars requiring space to park. A road that is four lanes wide, one on each side for parking spaces, one in each direction for traffic, could be reduced to two lanes, or maybe even one if self-driving cars could coordinate with each other when to head which way down a road. Now you'd have two or three extra car widths of road space that could be used to widen sidewalks, add dedicated bike lanes, grow trees or plants, and so on.

It is only when one travels to a city that was designed before automobiles became prevalent that one senses just how much of their surface area American cities have sacrificed to cars. Pedestrians have been trained to stay out of the road, it holds nothing but danger for them, and even when there are few cars around, that road space lays idle for the most part. It's a usage of land that is actively hostile to most people who are walking around the city, instead giving preference to cars, many of which are too large, most of whom only hold one person, and a large percentage of which are just driving around in search of a parking spot because street parking is priced too low and public transportation is under built.

The next time you're out in the city, look at the width of the sidewalk you're walking on and compare it to the width of the road off the side. Then travel to Europe and stroll around a town like Seville or Florence and do the same arithmetic. Or you can just use Google Street View or an online image search for a cheaper, if less charming way to complete the exercise.

A street in Seville. If you add up the sidewalk space, it's almost as wide, if not as wide, as the space dedicated to cars and motorcycles. But this understates the pedestrian-friendliness of Seville because people feel very comfortable walking on the roads in Seville, not just the sidewalks.

Market Street in San Francisco. It is the widest street in San Francisco, but the ratio of street space dedicated to automobiles to sidewalk set aside for pedestrians is similar to that of other streets throughout the city. As a pedestrian, the difference in feel between walking in a European city like Seville to an American city like San Francisco is palpable.