Christian | Nigerian | Urbanist | Photographer
A while ago, I read “The Digital Cathedral in the Age of Democratic Sustainability” by Dr Peter Bardaglio, a Senior Fellow at Second Nature, Inc and Coordinator of the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative. I was overwhelmed the first time I read it – there were so many interesting ideas wrapped in one place. It was probably also due to the fact that I had been reading lighter articles and blog posts leading up to his article.
I decided to read the article again a few days later, when my mind was less cluttered and I could actually do some ruminating. It turns out I was right about there being a lot packed into the article, but I also found that I could pick out some of the major themes for further exploration. One of the themes that resonated with me is contained in the third paragraph:
Community is the essential concept underpinning sustainability. Whether an ecosystem or social system, the dynamics of interconnectedness and interdependence are what make growth and health possible. In medieval society, the cathedral embodied this understanding of what was known at the time as the “Great Chain of Being.” An awe-inspiring structure, the cathedral by its physical presence affirmed the vertical hierarchy that held medieval society together, and its construction gave individuals in the community a clear and compelling sense of their place in the world and the links that bound them to each other. “Building a cathedral,” says Robert Scott in The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral, “entailed an ongoing, difficult, yet energizing form of collective enterprise in which people could take enormous pride and around which they could rally a community.”
The first reason why this stands out to me is because I began to realize the importance of this connection between community and sustainability while reflecting on my graduate school plans as an intern at Second Nature. This idea was also part of the introductory training program I took on The Natural Step framework, and it makes a whole load of sense when you think about it. A system cannot be sustainable when its different parts are running at cross-purposes.
Although each organ in the human body has a different function, they all work together to keep the body alive and promote its well-being. In nature, we can observe this in ant colonies and in the symbiotic relationships between some species. It’s cool to see Egyptian Plovers that clean the teeth of crocodiles (reputedly) and Hermit crabs carrying sea anemone on their recycled snail shells. These animals have found win-win solutions in their relationships.
The second reason the idea of community being essential to sustainability resonates with me is because of Dr Bardaglio’s illustration of the bonding of a medieval community around a cathedral. I had the chance to see something similar to this in 2006 in the town of San Ildefonso Tultepec, Amealco, Queretaro, Mexico. The people of San Ilde have been maintaining their local chapel since the Spanish missionaries founded the church hundreds of years ago. After the first group of missionaries left the area, the people of San Ilde kept on reciting the prayers they were taught and maintained the church – much to the surprise of the next group of missionaries who found these Otomi Indians praying in Spanish.
Every month (I believe), a family in the town is tasked with coordinating the upkeep of the church. One Saturday each month, the whole community gathers to clean and re-adorn the church, and gather in communal worship. It is one of the most amazing things you could see. The ceremony begins hours before sunrise and ends between 7 and 8am. Most of the community gathers in prayer and celebration, and their faith and bonds are strengthened. I was there with a small group organized by Assumption College’s Campus Ministry office, and we were all moved.
So, I agree with Dr Bardaglio when he says that community is essential to sustainability. I think that if we can find (or create) shared traditions like this one, provide incentives by showing what each stakeholder can gain, and work hard at them, we can help to create a more sustainable society.
What do you think?
You can see some photos from the chapel in San Ilde here.