Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hail Mary Revisited

Most of my concern about a project like Ave Maria University, has less to do with the university (although Michael Rose is absolutely right about the chapel, and its defender Father Fessio is smart enough to know better), than with the town. A view of the site plan alone suggests that Ave Maria, Florida, is not a "town" in the traditional sense of being designed for pedestrian traffic, but rather a suburb designed for the automobile. The residential sections appear to be predominated by cul-de-sacs, isolated enclaves where there is only one way out. You may be less than a mile as the crow flies from the village market, but by the time you weave around the maze that a minivan can traverse with no problem, you have walked nearly twice that far. Even if you don't consider the average temperature in Florida -- higher than Michigan, for those who flunked geography -- this environment is clearly designed to an industrial scale, as opposed to one that is human. After all, why walk a mile for a quart of milk when the Hummer is right there in the driveway? It is at risk of becoming, therefore, a monument to consumption and excess for which the American suburb has become known in over half a century.

And which is more "cultural Calvinist" than it is Catholic, regardless of how many streets are named for saints.

(A closer read of the material suggests a variety of housing, from apartments toward the center of town, to larger single-family homes on the outskirts. Be that as it may, the overall site plan speaks volumes for the major thrust of the project -- in other words, where the developers assume the money is.)

With the rise of "new urbanism" as a viable and humane alternative to single-use zoning, there is no excuse for this, particularly with those who have the means to do otherwise. Responding to the first "Hail Mary" piece, a reader of MWBH wrote: "To paraphrase Cardinal Newman, 'Republicans in minivans have souls.'"

We can only hope. They're going to need something to sell when they get there.

1 comment:

father michael said...

Wow. I posted about this on my blog but had no idea about the sort of "industrial" aspect of the town. I really think that a Catholic culture would do its best work in a normal place where Catholics have to work to relate to each other and others. It can grow, evangelize, and really be a light ... instead of hiding away in Florida.