Centuries ago, churches, temples, mosques or other spiritual building anchored a city. For example, when the Spaniards founded cities and towns in the new world, they built a large church at the centre (along with a public plaza and a government building). Around the world people traveled to cities near and far in order to worship, as well as potentially to buy or sell in a market.
Today, visiting a religious edifice is not as likely to be the reason people visit or move to a city. Nevertheless, it may be that cities do still fulfill spiritual needs, but ones not attached to organized religion. At least, this is the suggestion in an Economist article from May 2007.
The article offers the hypothesis that cities today offer shrines to other cultural needs or passions that people have — and not all people will be attracted to the same urban places, even if they are attracted to the same city:
- Shopping — consumer culture — is something that large cities offer in a much more grand style than smaller towns.
- Special cultural opportunities are also offered in particular cities — such as unique museums (or museum collections), opera houses, and theater.
- Finally, professional sporting events and venues offer a further “spiritual” option in cities. Based on the ways some sports fans worship their teams and heroes, the religious comparison seems appropriate.
Just as religious shrines used to form part of the city’s central core, today sports complexes, fashion forward retail streets, and cultural opportunities are flourishing downtown. Indeed, city planners today are often advocating building these venues downtown if they are not already there — fulfilling the new spiritual needs of residents.