A Gentile Plat for the City of Zion

June 9, 2008 | 24 comments

I’ve just come across an interesting thinker about cities and planning who, like Joseph Smith, believes that once a city reaches around 10,000 or so of population a new city should be started.

I’m not familiar with the gentleman or the other ways in which his views converge or diverge with those of Joseph Smith but perhaps our better-informed readers can comment.

24 Responses to A Gentile Plat for the City of Zion

  1. Jack on June 9, 2008 at 6:44 pm
  2. James McMurray on June 9, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Krier is one of the pre-eminent thinkers regarding the New Urbanist movement, which has had a profound impact on urban planning policies throughout the U.S. over the past 15 years. For example, Rio Tinto\’s vast land holdings in the western Salt Lake Valley have been master-planned according to many New Urbanist principles (we\’re talking about a 100-year buildout, the largest contiguously planned area in the U.S. under single ownership, of which Daybreak is only the first phase…though I understand the remainder of the plans have been put on hold at this time. Having been out of Utah for a few years, I\’m now a little out of the loop on this type of news).

    In my experience, New Urbanism is often highly misunderstood (and unfairly criticized) by many within the architectural and urban planning communities, but it does have a number of commonalities with the Plat of Zion, primarily that urban settlement should A) serve primarily a social function through the clustering of development and B) such settlement should have a well-defined \”edge\” to not only buffer between communities but also local agricultural lands dedicated for community use and consumption.

    It is worth noting these principles have continued to resonate in projects with Mormon ties. The Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland was developed by a Mormon and planned according to New Urbanist Principles. The Community of Christ also partnered with a New Urbanist (who they felt represented their values) to develop a large portion of their land holdings in Independence, Missouri.

  3. Bob on June 9, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    10,000 is a little below my comfort zone. Maybe, I could handle 50,000. After all, one must have a Walmart, two high schools to hate each other, a movie theater with 20 movies, a choose of 6 doughnut shops, etc.

  4. Jack on June 9, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    “6 doughnut shops”

    One for every wedge in the six-spoked circular Buckminster Fuller-ian plot. Now that’s getting close to zion.

  5. Sarah on June 9, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    I’d say 15,000 is good — just big enough that if you want (or need) to avoid someone, you can pull it off successfully. My mom has clients who live in towns small enough that, short of making one person move (or confining one person to their house during the hours the other is out), there’s no way to keep them from seeing each other — not so great when every time either of them sees the other, they immediately start a fight.

    And Wal-Mart will come in for a town with as few as 13,000 — they know it’ll draw people from upwards of forty-five minutes away. At least in the midwest (our Wal-Mart happily killed the dark, way too small K-Mart, and drew people in from other counties.)

  6. James McMurray on June 9, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Neglected to mention…Kentlands was also one of the very first New Urbanist developments, so it was fairly groundbreaking.

    #5 “…just big enough that if you want (or need) to avoid someone, you can pull it off successfully.”

    My own perspective on this is a PoZ arrangement perhaps was meant to eliminate this altogether as a means of effectively compelling interaction, contact and thus opportunities to learn (sometimes the hard way) the meaning of “love thy neighbor.” Tougher to do when you’re scattered and isolated, as most farms would have been in the 19th century, or even modern large lot developments of the present day…

  7. snow white on June 10, 2008 at 9:54 am

    I love the idea of a smallish town where everything is a 10-30 min. walk away. I used to walk 30 min. each eay to work with ahops and a library available on the way. I really miss that in the suburbs. We can’t walk anywhere because of he traffic.

  8. Bob on June 10, 2008 at 11:41 am

    I want the FACTS: At 10,000 people, do I get a hospital, pizza delivery, Home Depot, Thai food, an Outlet mall, etc. ?

  9. James McMurray on June 10, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    The FACT is there is no way to know because if a large population was actually structured in clusters of 10,000, the spatial and market dynamics would alter in ways we couldn’t entirely predict. Given the current way development works, you probably aren’t getting any of the larger uses (hospital, big box retail), though pizza and thai food aren’t out of the realm of possibility.

    If we actually fit things into the 10,000 configuration, I’d speculate that you’d have ready access to preventative and emergency healthcare (specialists would probably still centralize, but we’ll save a discussion of overhauling healthcare delivery models for another discussion), you’d lose large format retail (e.g. Home Depot) but also a great deal of the costly infrastructure needed to support it. So some of those goods and services might be more costly, but perhaps lower taxes offsets this, not to mention what you’d probably save on transportation.

  10. John Mansfield on June 10, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    James McMurray, my wife visited the Kentlands Ward a couple months ago. She was surprised by the quality of the building, all the detail work that the Church usually can’t afford. She wasn’t certain at first glance that it was an LDS building. Asking members there about this, she was told that the site was donated by the developers with the requirement that the church be constructed to match the surrounding community.

  11. James McMurray on June 10, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    I was not aware about the building itself, but that is interesting. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the zoning hadn’t been written to legally require ANY church to meet certain design/architectural standards, but who knows). I have my own feelings about this, as I don’t love the cookie cutter buildings and think something is lost. But, at the same time I recognize there is also some practical value in having every building be more or less the same…economies of scale, “branding” etc. Also I probably wouldn’t suspect the issue is something the church couldn’t afford, but chooses normally not to pursue. If a bit boring, I think our buildings are generally decent enough and (like all good things Mormon) exceptionally functional.

  12. Richard O. on June 11, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Like the Daybreak development in SLC, I notice that the Kentlands development also has very traditional architecture stongly influenced by various historic styles. Apparently the sterility of “modern” architecture has been avoided. “Modern architecture” (styles that often go back to the German BauHaus) almost make it a matter of religious faith to outlaw ornamentation and visual references to historical styles. I find it interesting that these examples of “the new urbanism” seem to have figured out that that the sterility of modernism is not very emotionally satisfying for most people. Cutting edge=traditional, an interesting thought.

  13. Adam Greenwood on June 11, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Everything old is new again . . .

  14. Adam on June 11, 2008 at 11:43 am

    So what is our contribution to architecture? What we consider traditional at one time was cutting edge.

    How can we avoid the sterility of modernism but push the boundaries of development?

  15. Adam Greenwood on June 11, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I would argue that self-consciously pushing the boundaries of development is played out. A new, conscious traditionalism is itself a new thing, and the next genuine new thing will be in response to what are perceived to be the flaws or needs or beauties that the current new thing leaves out.

    In other words, to genuinely push the boundaries of development you have to stop asking yourself, “how can we push the boundaries of development? How does this push the boundaries of development?”

  16. Richard O. on June 11, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I believe in technological progress. Aesthetics are more complicated. Aesthetic innovation for the sake of aesthetic innovation may be a bit over rated. The collective memory of billions of people over a prolonged period of time may have something to teach us about aesthetics. I think that it is interesting how the Creator approached creation, “like unto worlds heretofore created.”

  17. James McMurray on June 11, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    #16 – That’s a good insight, and I think that actually relates to one of the central aspects of New Urbanism, as its tenets are rooted in historic urban design principles that evolved over millennia (only to be thrown out the window when we starting building cities at scale for a car rather than a person). In other words, New Urbanism wasn’t simply conceived as some cheap effort at manufacturing nostalgia through the use historic architectural elements, but an effort to produce an oder that “heretofore” existed but had been lost in the mad rush to modernization.

    Unfortunately, market and political constraints have diluted this intent (in many cases) and produced a lot of projects that only superficially resemble the intent of those who originally forged the movement. At this point, there is so much baggage associated with the term New Urbanism, it has lost its its luster as a “brand.” Still, its principles are being applied in many forms and under different names…for example, I’ve never heard of Daybreak being labeled “New Urbanist” though it’s follows most (if not all) of its principles.

  18. Richard O. on June 11, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Actually I rather like nostalgia. It has a fairly noble linage.

    The Romans liked Greek aesthetics. Most of what we know about Greek Classical sculpture are actually Roman copies. The Renaissance like the Romans. Most of the 19th century Houses of Parliment in London are based on English Perpendicular Gothic from the 15th century. The National Capital Building (and most o state capitals) are strongly inspired by architecture from Italy, France, and Great Britain that was built hundreds and hundreds of years before. The list could go on and on…

    The logic of “modernism” in architectural schools has always baffled me. Why was it ok for the Renaisance, etc., etc. to be inspired by the past, but suddenly, in post WWII architectural design (when the BauHaus finally took over schools of architecture all over the Western World), the visual “voice ” of the collective memory of our civilization was forced to go mute? It has always seemed rather strange to me that universities that are supposed to pass on the collective memory of mankind’s greatest achievements have enforced historical amnesia in their schools of architecture when it come to architectural aesthetics. Perhaps this is one reason why there are so few outcrys from the public when most building built during the last half century are torn down.

  19. James McMurray on June 12, 2008 at 11:52 am

    In my mind, there is a big difference between the U.S. Capitol, which I believe was meant to hearken back to the lofty ideals of republicanism and high culture, and some faux-colonial subdivision in the sticks that tacks on vaguely reminiscent architectural elements to boost curb appeal.

    Some developments try to get it right by using authentic architectural style, but many don’t, which has spoiled the reputation of such efforts as a whole. Even then, the transition from the pre-war “craft prodcution” of housing to the post-war “mass production” of housing has robbed even the best-designed neighborhoods of that certain *something* needed for it to feel like the real thing. Time is one ingredient you just can’t make or fake…that said, well-designed homes, neighborhoods and communities typically age more gracefully, while more haphazard building (which has predominated for decades now) will likely not stand the test of time.

  20. Richard O. on June 13, 2008 at 9:40 am

    By European standards, many of our state capital buildings, that “hark back to republicanism,” are “in the sticks” as well. I have seen classical architecture in Mexico City, Nairobi, and Singapore. Is it “fake” or “revival?” Sometimes two words for the same thing, but just reflecting a different pont of view. Yet those buildings looked good to me. They seem to transend time and place.
    Grand public buildings will almost always be more satisfying than medium priced domestic architecture, the natural result of scale and budget and skill.
    As to appealing to the market (curb appeal), it is one way of giving more people an economic vote. Economic competition can often improve the quality of products over time. Let’s hope tomorrow’s architectural revivals wiil be better than today’s. Some of that will depend upon the kind of training architects recieve. So far that training is inadaquate. One of the best places to recieve superb training in traditional styles is he University of Notre Dame. Not suprisingly, their graduates are in very high demand. The market may improve the quality of architectural training over time.

  21. Adam Greenwood on June 13, 2008 at 10:33 am

    One of the best places to receive superb training in traditional styles is the University of Notre Dame.

    Many of our friends at ND were studying architecture. Those folks were intense. Some of their work was jaw-dropping gorgeous.

  22. James McMurray on June 13, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I have been told that Notre Dame and the University of Miami are the only two universities in the country that emphasize classical architecture. Both are closely tied to the New Urbanism. I believe Krier was (maybe still is) at Notre Dame.

    As far as the economic vote issue, walkable urban development currently commands a significant premium in the market and many studies have pegged the demand for walkable urbanism at about 1/3 to 1/2 the market. Most metro areas are probably less than 10% walkable/New Urbanist. Because land has such highly unique characteristics (namely immobile and indestructable), the market dynamics are fundamentally different than for other “products” in a free market…this will take time to take place, but it’s already swinging that way. In 30 years, we will probably have numerous good options for both drivable/suburban and walkable/urban lifestyles. If anything, local land use policies in place today are impeding this market shift more than anything.

  23. Joseph on June 16, 2008 at 1:44 am

    Mr. McMurray, I thought I was fairly up on New Urbanism, but I’ve never heard of an agricultural element to it. I would very much like to hear about it. Do you have a source for your statement? Thanks!

  24. James McMurray on June 17, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    There is not an explicit agricultural element in New Urbanism per se, but there is an implied link to agricultural considerations. I would have to go back and look, but I’d be surprised if the Charter of the New Urbanism doesn’t give a shout out (at least in passing) to agricultural issues.

    Assuming New Urbanism were applied over thousands of acres according to the concepts laid out in Andres Duany’s “Transect,” there would definitely be strong consideration given to preserving prime local agricultural land based on regional need. This will likely never happen given the shoddy state of regional planning within the country’s metro areas, and it is extremely unlikely that an isolated New Urbanist project in any given area could/would attempt to implement it. Many have suggested this is evidence of New Urbanism’s failure, but my view is that applying the theories of New Urbanism in within the existing legal frameworks is where the problem lies. As urban agriculture begins to re-emerge, it could happen, though…

    Getting back to the original post, the similarities between New Urbanism and the Plat of Zion are striking.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.