58. Celebrate Existing Sacred Spaces as Community Assets


Holy Cross Church

Strong Towns, in their post “Is Nothing Sacred” highlights the conundrum of integrating sacred spaces into communities, once their original use has passed.  While the article makes great points about reprogramming the building itself, searching for viable plans for adapted reuse, a perspective that is missing is the value that the historic architecture has on the community.  Investment in these types of ornate structures may never be fiscally possible again and while programming must be part of their life moving forward, the shared space of these public structures is critical to maintaining civic pride.  It’s hard to be motivated to love contemporary retail development, but historic architecture, especially when adapted uses are identified, create deep community appreciation.

In the first century of the United States, spiritual structures served a significant purpose in the shaping of the communities they preceded. With many churches either evolving from missionary outposts or being one of the first structures in a new community, faith-based structures played a pivotal role in the way early communities were shaped. For example, take their physical stature alone: with the traditional high steeple of Christian gathering places, they were often the tallest structure for miles around and were sometimes the most expensively constructed structure in terms of materials and art. As immigration from various countries helped spur the expansion of the U.S., churches served as de facto community centers, which brought together people of common cultural ancestry and established support systems that ultimately aided in their integration to the U.S.

St Patricks Church.JPG

As cities evolve and their stories become more diverse, preserving historic architecture can create a link between history and future.  We cannot leave the fate of these buildings up to those whose priorities do not align with the common good.  If it did, as Strong Towns points out, we wouldn’t have such a limited range for viable options.  While the religious symbols that permeate these structures carry polarizing points of view, non-religious or simply non-denominational adaptations can help bridge divides.

Whether these buildings are currently operational or not, they represent significant community landmarks and municipalities must find a way to better support them (through investments in adjacent public infrastructure or including them as linchpins within community Master Plans).

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