I’m an urbanist. Unabashedly so. I love the hustle and bustle of the city. I love the sounds and fragrances of commerce and tourism, the public spaces—parks and piazzas in particular, the grand towering buildings, the distinct neighbourhoods, the availability of art galleries and musical performances and libraries, the rich variety of churches, the intellectual ferment in the academy and the cafés, the possibilities of both intimate companionship and distancing civility, the variety of sights available to the flâneur and the boulevardier… and a hundred more things I could list.
This does not mean that I am blind to the charms and virtues of the country. For a confirmed cosmopolitan like me, the country is a great place to visit or through which to drive. Earlier today, my commute from home to office took me past woods coloured in the warm hues of autumn. Five minutes by foot from my home I can strike out on the Bruce Trail, and in an hour be out of the city and on my way along the escarpment that traces across Ontario. I recall with delight the frequent visits I made as a child in Africa to the farm of my step-grandfather—shining my Sunday shoes by walking around the freshly sheered sheep’s wool, or alternatively walking around barefoot in the dusty veld.
But I am well aware that these day-tripper sentiments do not plumb the depths of the virtue of love of land, the steady cultivation of a farm over generations, the unsentimental care for livestock and crops that properly characterize the agricultural life. While I am not an ideological agrarian, I do believe that urbanists like me can learn a great deal from the great agrarian voices of our time, like Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson.
Over the next months Comment will explore the meaning of the city, its social and architectural design, its politics, its provision of a space for the arts, and its relation to the church. We look forward to the conversations that this exploration will provoke, and hope that the dialogue will help us understand better the proper place of both city and country in human lives lived well.