Can a historical city plan from the 1800s help rebuild community in America?
The 1833 City of Zion Plan The City of Zion plan provided for connection and promoted community. It began in 1830 with the LDS Prophet, Joseph Smith, who believed in and promoted the advantages of living in closely connected communities rather than on isolated farms. These communities provided opportunities for education, cooperation, culture, worship, and most importantly, connection.
Support at the Center At the center of his plan were three sections of land to be used for public buildings, and more specifically, temples for a center of worship. Support at the center served the well-being of the people through providing a physical, psychological, and sociological framework on the very basic levels of attachment and connection.
Connection Promotes Well-Being Our built and natural environment – our means of connection – is essential to our health and well-being both individually and as a whole. When we have place-identity we have a sense of belonging that contributes to our well-being through the connection it provides. The patterns of place-making (to form attachment) connect a people to their place.
Place Identity and Attachment Place Identity is the propensity, to a greater or lesser extent, to feel an emotional consciousness of belongingness to a place and to other people who inhabit it, not only as a function of personal dispositions and personal references, but also in function of collective, culturally marked, ways of thinking about the environment. (Felonneau 2004)
Sense of Place Promotes Connection The cognitions that provide the emotional consciousness of belongingness to a place promote connections between people. People connect to each other when they live and work together in their communities and this connectivity promotes well-being through the fostering of social support. Social support is vital to emotional and mental health and has been identified as a coping mechanism that influences well-being. (Pearlin and Schooler 1978)
Connection and Privacy Smiths plan provided for the connection and privacy of the people – on one square the houses will stand on one street, and on the next one, another, – and through promoting a walk-able environment in which the residents could easily find the goods and services they may need, and the people they may need.
The Pioneers walked to the Salt Lake Valley. This is how they looked.
Symbol at the Center To be together in a place was not enough. They needed a foundation to build on – something concrete – a structure rich with meaning through which they could build their community and create their home. The temple was an architectural medium of religious devotion to connect the people their God, to connect them to their land, and to bind them to each other. It gave them meaning while they defined the place in which they lived during a time in which they re-defined themselves, and their lives.
The City of Zion placed God at the center of the people and kept them closely connected to each other. It was a new community for a people who had suffered adversity, persecution, exclusion, and isolation. It was for a people who had watched their belongings destroyed, and their homes set on fire. It was a community for a people who needed homes, each other, and a sense of purpose.
Socio-Economic Diversity In Smiths design, every socio-economic position was accounted for. The land was not divided based on income, or financial status. The land was parceled out and homes of all types and sorts were to be built. The simple and the grand were to exist together. Smiths only distinction was that they were to be constructed of stone and brick.
Diversity by Design Shown below is what the plan would have looked like had it been repeated as Joseph Smith had suggested. If the initial plan had become a pattern, every neighborhood would have blended into the next as people wandered from center to center. The mix of people, housing, and businesses would have become diverse by design.
In the years between the 1890s and the 1990s the connection between community design and civic life stretched, then snapped. The division between them is visible in the landscape, where things that once mixed are now segregated. Zoning keeps businesses and dwellings apart, development separates the new and the old, the rich and the poor neither live nor work together, television and the internet keep neighbors indoors and patrons out of theaters and bookstores, the spread of suburbs places more people in their cars for longer stretches of time, peering at each other through darkened glass. Gary Daynes. Reuniting Civic Life and Community Design 2004
Connection can foster Civic Engagement A community that is connected through the individual connections of the people will be a healthy community that thrives. Joseph Smiths City of Zion Plan provided for the need of connection. Greater personal identification and social connection leads to increased awareness of contemporary issues and greater interest in providing for change.
Social ties or social capital (Putnam 2000) make our lives productive and meaningful and encourage activity and involvement by reinforcing the bonds we have with one another. Joseph Smith understood precisely what creates feelings of attachment and community, privacy and inclusion, safety and security, boundary and belonging.
Social ties or Social capital - Putnam 2000 Make our lives productive and meaningful and encourage activity and involvement by reinforcing the bonds we have with one another. Joseph Smith understood precisely what creates feelings of attachment and community, privacy and inclusion, safety and security, boundary and belonging. Joseph Smith
The City of Zion Plan was intended to settle the people. It was intended to strengthen and sustain them. It was planned to build them and to help them to build community. Smith designed the necessary elements to create attachment and belonging for everyone into the fabric of the landscape – on paper. We should have paid more attention.