Spinning our Wheels

Spinning our Wheels is a commuting blog about the challenges of getting around Atlanta by car, bus, MARTA, bicycles and on foot written by transportation reporter David Wickert

Is there such thing as morally driven development?

Did you ever think about morals when you considered whether a new road should be built, or bridge erected, or transit system installed?

Apparently, Pope Francis does. And he believes transportation planners should, too.

" It is important that the different parts of a city be well integrated and that those who live there have a sense of the whole, rather than being confined to one neighbourhood and failing to see the larger city as space which they share with others.... The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation. Yet some measures needed will not prove easily acceptable to society unless substantial improvements are made in the systems themselves, which in many cities force people to put up with undignified conditions due to crowding, inconvenience, infrequent service and lack of safety. "

The comments came as part of his 184-page encyclical, in response to what he called humanity's "principal challenge" -- global climate change. You've probably already heard a number of presidential wannabes and talking heads sounding off about whether it's appropriate for the leader of a billion Catholics to make judgements on such a sensitive environmental and political issue.

But global warming aside, is there more to consider here about whether we are building our cities with the best interest of everyone - including the poor - in mind? Atlanta, after all, has been ranked as one of the metropolitan areas where it is most difficult for lower-income households to rise into the middle class and beyond, in large part because poor people are stranded by sprawl with no way to reach jobs.

Since I'm not Catholic, I wasn't sure what an encyclical is. Google tells me it's a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.

In this encyclical, the pope directs his message to everyone on the planet, saying " I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home."

I won't delve farther into his message. You can follow the link if you're interested. But I do think it raises an interesting question of how federal, state and local leaders, many of whom hold deeply religious beliefs, might begin to view the process of choosing which projects to support and fund. And what should we, as mindful citizens of this world, require of their efforts?

What sort of development do you consider to be morally driven?

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