What makes a good city?
In May Bishop Tom shared his vision for
London with guests at the Haberdashers Company Golden Lecture.
St Augustine of Hippo asked that question
1600 years ago. He spoke of two cities - the earthly city and the City of God -created by
two loves: the earthly, created by love of self, extending even to contempt of God; and
the heavenly, created by love of God extending to contempt of self.
Though you may have to be involved in both,
you can only ever truly belong to one.
Given that all civic and personal morality
is making the best of a bad job, Augustine argues that what matters most is that we keep
our fundamental orientation (our love) Godward and not let it slip back selfward - above
all, never confusing the Giver and the gifts, since that makes any gift an idol, and shuts
us out of the City that abides.
Augustine would have approved of the church
being fully involved in that project and involved we certainly are. The Church of England
is to be found in all parts of Greater London - in the smart and fashionable places; in
the richer suburbs; but also in the inner city ghetto estates, the soulless outer council
estates. That gives the Church of England it's authority to speak on the state of life of
How might we begin to translate some of
those concepts into the business of creating the good city here in London?
The central planners of the fifties and
sixties were over optimistic in their attempt at creating a new utopia - they got the
buildings wrong, and they took no account of human sin and selfishness. The 'streets in
the sky' became a muggers and drug pushers paradise. Rubbish chutes, designed in the days
before every item from the supermarket comes in its own packaging, were soon blocked and
the rubbish overflowed - the slums had returned.
The right wing theoreticians of the
eighties and nineties believed that selfishness was part and parcel of the human
condition. So, harness it, use it for the common good. People are naturally competitive,
so let them compete. Let the market rip. Let some people get richer and richer, let the
inequalities in society grow, then the wealth will trickle down and everybody will
That was the philosophy which created
Canary Wharf - an awesome example of what the market can and cannot do. What it can do is
to create major concentrations of commercial development. What it can't do, without
planning and intervention, is to create the thriving mixed community which is the hallmark
of a civilised city, and should be our aim as London develops in the third millennium.
What then would London look like if it
were to develop into a good city in the years to come?
The bedrock of the Christian ethic is the
demand to love - love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and your
neighbour as yourself. Groups, institutions and nations can't love one another but they
can be expected to act justly to one another.
First and foremost then, the good city
needs to be a just city - where wealth is created and used for the benefit of all its
citizens so that sufficient work, food, shelter and finance are available...where all have
access to decent education, and health and hope are fairly distributed and where people
participate in government.
With a new system of governance just around
the corner. London has the opportunity to get the balance between national, regional,
local and community government right. In a good city all its components need to work in
balance if there is to be hope for all.
It's no good the local community becoming a
place of hope and beauty if you can't get to it because the surrounding roads are
gridlocked and systems of public transport have broken down. It's no good living in a
private estate of wealth and ease if you have to protect yourself from those living down
the hill. The challenge is there for all of us who live relatively comfortable lives in
our great city.
We can either fear our less privileged
neighbour and protect ourselves from him or her, or we can work to reduce some of barriers
of privilege and powerlessness.
In our professional life this means, not
only striving to make our own way in the world, but also striving to make that world a
more just and beautiful place for others. In our private life it might mean offering our
expertise to school governing bodies, not in the leafy suburbs and villages where our own
children go to school, but in the failing inner-city estate schools whose teachers need
encouragement and support.
Secondly, a good city knows itself to be
a place of diversity and rejoices in the knowledge.
A city like London will work to become both
unified and polycentric. It will know itself to be a metropolitan city which embraces a
myriad of villages and towns each with their own distinctive sense of self and life.
Computers, modern communications have shrunk the globe and transformed every part of
industry and commerce. But they also have created new opportunities for smaller businesses
to be created and prosper in the local communities.
The process of transformation has only just
started. The future will see a real dynamic between a city centre and its outlying
suburbs, villages and towns. Social and commercial activity will be found throughout that
net and flow between them. A good city is a region then of a diverse and broad range of
overlapping activities and cultures; indeed in London our neighbour is likely to be from a
different race or culture.
For Christians in London this means trying
to promote respect for people of other faith traditions, and co-operate with them where
that is possible and appropriate. At the same time trying to ensure that we are not
diluting the Christian faith but finding fresh ways of living it out.
And it will be a place of divine
The Lord Mayor of London in 1968, delivered
a speech in Wells Cathedral called the City of God. He told his audience that just about
the same amount was spent on advertising as upon state schools.
He suggested that advertising consisted in
making people discontented so that they purchased something which they hadn't got. He
finished with these words, "Could one create a sense of dis-satisfaction, not with a
man's material status, but with the status of his soul? - so that a man should not want to
keep up with the Jones's, but with the saints - that he should not want to become a
gauleiter of the city of Mammon but a chartered freeman of the City of God however
May our good city of London have many such
chartered freemen, and may we find ourselves amongst them.
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