Among these latter, Paul Johnson singles out the modern skyline. The skyscraper city is a creation, certainly, and most beautiful and most recognizable in its fantastic edge against the sky. Skylines have, by slow and unplanned accretions, become signatures. They have also become beautiful.
Not only that, but skylines speak to the ethos of the capitalism that created them. Each skyscraper attempts to outdo the others and set itself apart. In so doing, the builders unwittingly raise the general level and create a kind of unity. If skyscrapers are the art of the marketplace, the skyline is the vision of the Market itself, in which self-interest coordinates individuals into a whole. The skyline then can be art because its beautiful and high art, perhaps, because it captures the dreams of its people. Finally, as most art cannot hope to be, it is integral art because it plays a role in the lives of ordinary people. Skylines define cities in photographs and postcards. More integrally yet, skylines are the great curtains that one sees when Going to the Big City or Going Back Home. These are momentous transitions in a life. Skylines mark them.
Perhaps because I think some LDS art, temples for instance, can also be beautiful, organic, and integrated into life, thinking of the secular city made me wonder what a saintly city would be like.
We all know Joseph Smith’s plat for the City of Zion. He laid out a town houses and space and gardens, with a temple in the middle. The pattern is noble; I’d rather live there than most anyplace else I know. But Joseph’s “city” is not a city.
I wonder what Zion would look like if it were being imagined now. Would it be metropolitan with all the nations of the world streaming up to it to pay homage and receive law and judgment? If its too much of a strain to think of Zion as a busy metropolis, lets ask what a great city would look like if it was a pre-millennial part of this world but teeming with saints who wanted to live in a godly pattern?
I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how such a city would differ from Chicago or Philadelphia. Maybe the skyline might be different. Maybe I’d travel up the highway to the city and see the whole great skyline there and see one tower above the rest. That tower would be the temple, rooted in the earth but reaching up to where the Lord dwells. Or maybe I’d see a temple on top of each tower. Maybe I’d see a little shimmer on the face of some of the skyscrapers where the descending streams of water caught the light, the water that the residents diverted to nourish their little balcony gardens.
More importantly, whatever I saw in the skyline, the meaning would be different from the secular skyline. Once I sat in the front row of stake conference and turned and saw all the raised hands when we sustained the prophet, and I turned and saw the missionaries and converts stand when the mission president’s wife asked, and the skyline of the City of Deseret would mean something like that with the same sense of awe. The skyline would be a Golgotha to which many of His followers had brought their cross, it would be faith written across the landscape. The gospel redeems and transforms the very essence of a thing while seeming to leave its essentials unchanged.