Note: This piece was originally published on The Nature of Cities . It has been posted here with permission from the author.
The late Robin Williams famously quoted C. S. Lewis in the film Dead Poets Society: ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ This aphorism resonates for me the meaning of the sacred in the city: that is the spaces, places, and experiences where individual revelation connects with collective meaning, and which enable escape and enchantment in city life.
The sacred conjures notions of mysterious powers, human flourishing, the search for nature within ourselves, biophilia, oikos—or home. Being at home with ourselves. Home in the city, in our everyday urban environments. We may find the sacred in places where we escape—a quiet, contemplative garden or eave on a highrise roof where there is life around, not too far away, yet distant enough to not force interaction. Or where one steals a magical kiss with a lover in a busy alleyway so lush with vegetation that it provides secret nooks at twilight. Or in places with intense visual stimulation. The sacred, and sacred landscapes, can give expression to an essential nature—of an individual, of a collective, of a place, of a city—where we engage with others or where we retreat to in order to nourish our spirits, regenerate our souls, and reconnect with primal instincts and forces. The sacred in the city is also about a sensibility that heightens awareness of the emotional dimension of humans; of sensory perceptions (smell, sound, sight, touch and taste); of desire, spirituality, enchantment and conviviality.