Friday, March 23, 2012
A real estate lesson...
The greatest value in the tight spaces of the city is not given to the high rises that seem to touch the sky, but the lower buildings. Churches are lavish extravagances in a city which values space so highly. They stand tall not because of physical height but because we afford them some of the best of our addresses and the most expensive real estate known to us and we indulge them this largesse even though the "air" space above their buildings is itself a valuable resource.
Where real estate is at a premium and limited space pushes up the skyline, there’s nothing more luxurious than a low-lying building. While seeing a steeple in the shadow of a skyscraper suggest the domination of church by commerce, it actually indicates our society’s collective willingness to sacrifice massive economic gains to preserve a space for worship. That land is very valuable and, in a strictly economic sense, would be put to much better use by the construction of yet another stack of offices of condominiums. It is a typically modern inversion that the steeple overawed by the skyscraper represents a real and costly decision in favor of faith.... says Matthew Schmitz at First Thoughts.
He is correct. A good sign of the place of religion and faith in the city is when pressure is put to bear to tear down these churches and replace them with tall buildings that take advantage of the upward value of upward space. But it is equally true that when churches sell or abandon those properties, it is a sign of the Church writing off the urban space more than the secular world laying claim to what was the domain of the religious. The sad truth is that in cities everywhere churches are abandoning the city, cashing in on the valuable real estate, and heading for the suburbs -- or simply closing down altogether. This is a bad thing in many ways. When the city and its commerce and culture are left without a tangible presence of the Christian faith, the result is the victory of the secular -- no matter if the churches are pushed out or give up. We cannot afford to let this happen. The renewal of the city will happen only by the renewal of the churches in the city.
Recently there were complaints that Cardinal Dolan is at the same time closing down parishes no longer viable and yet pouring tens of millions into the refurbishment of St. Pat's. I fully understand the lament of those whose parishes have been or are being targeted for closure. Yet at the same time I fully understand the need to keep the visible icon of faith in good shape for the next hundred years. The network that occupies the real estate directly across from St. Pat's needs to have this marker of Christian faith and life to balance off the media bias against it -- if only in the symbolism of the extravagance of giving over such valuable real estate to a church.