Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Religious Commons

On the Commons recently featured someone from my hometown in a post about "uncommon commoners," Rev. Tracey Lind:

Lind, who is also a city planner, is working to do just that in inner city Cleveland with Trinity Commons, the most ambitious new development for her neighborhood in decades. She has brought a coffee shop, independent bookstore, Ten Thousand Villages fair trade store, art gallery, labyrinth and public square to the grounds of Trinity Cathedral. Anyone can come to browse, relax with a cup of coffee, walk the labyrinth, pray, reflect, read, check their email on the cathedral’s wi-fi system, or take part in one of the many events – "religious and secular" – that go on at the church.

I admire this church's work in Cleveland, and many people whom I trust have a great deal of respect for Dean Lind and the inclusiveness of the church she heads (I believe she's been a guest at my home, actually, but I was not in attendance). However, I'm a little skeptical of how just it is to call this common space a "commons" in any legal sense. Though it is certainly charitable for the church property to be open to the public, it is also not under any public ownership, and, to my knowledge, there is no technical civic involvement.

Down the highway 20 minutes is a gross commercial complex called "Crocker Park," which I also admire for its intent: the goal was to bring dense living back, with mixed use buildings and a walkable main street. It, however, suffers from what I anticipate to be the same problem: it is still wholly owned by one private organization. When one enters Crocker Park, one is still acutely aware that they have entered someone's shopping mall. Likewise, the few times I've been in the common space at Trinity, I have still been aware that I've been visiting someone's church.

Oddly, from the introduction given, discussing the sacred places that are considered commons, I anticipated that the article would continue to discuss the contradictions in this belief. In fact, couldn't one argue that some of the major geopolitical problems of the past half century have been the result of the inability to treat sacred lands as common? It may be that legally enforcing the commonality in such a situation might provide a solution, such as in Fred Foldvary's prescription.

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