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Faith communities help make good cities

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Faith communities play a key role in making cities good places to live said participants on a panel sponsored by Cardus June 1.

“The role of faith communities in our country is profound,” said former Ambassador for Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett, who is now the director of Cardus Law. That role goes back to the religious faith of Canada’s first inhabitants, to the founding of hospitals, schools, social services and universities by various religious communities, he said.

Faith communities contribute to the beauty of cities through their architecture, their music, through public processions during celebrations, Bennett said. “It’s about the transmission of virtue, ethics, the moral sense these communities provide.”

They also contribute to enhancing the moral life of the city by showing “as citizens we are responsible for one another,” Bennett said.

If religious communities are to play their full role, “we need to ensure people of faith have the freedom to be people of faith publicly as well as privately,” he said.

The panel coincided with the launch of Cardus’ Halo Project researching the role of religious communities as “economy catalysts” in cities. The study concluded that for every $1 a religious institution budgets for various program, a city receives $4.77 in “common good services.”

The first phase of the project, modelled after one done in the United States, examined 10 congregations in Toronto which spend $9.5 million per year in “their direct budgets,” said the Halo Project report.

“But that is just the tip of the iceberg,” the report said. “The actual common good value those congregations produce, their ‘halo effect,’ ” through weddings, artistic performances, suicide prevention, ending substance abuse, housing initiatives, job training — and a whole host of other areas that make cities so much more livable — is estimated to be more than $45 million per year.

Bennett was joined on the June 1 panel by Cardus’ Social Cities program director Milton Friesen, who is responsible for the Halo Project, and Cardus Family director Andrea Mrozek, who spoke on the role families play in making good cities.

“There is no simple ‘city-building for dummies,’ ” Friesen said, describing the elements that go into a good city are “deeply complex.” It may not be a matter of “if we knew more we could do better,” but “we may need to know some things differently,” he said.

Mrozek described the street she lives on has having a playground, but it is not used, and only few working families with children, she said. A glossy advertisement promises “hotel living” in a new condo development being built nearby.

In the 2011 Census, the number of one person households surpassed that of families with children, she said. The fertility rate in Canada has dropped to 1.6 children per woman of child-bearing age, well below the 2.1 children needed to keep the population stable.

There’s a trend toward “post-familialism,” past the “prior assumption that the family was the bedrock” of society, she said.

If developers keep building condos designed for one person, or a maximum of two people, it reflects an “atomization” of society. “Do we need more families who make cities more habitable?” she asked.

“Stable families bring more good to cities than cities can bring to families,” she concluded.

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