A creative city is a spiritual city

By 
  • October 9, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - During his five years as Toronto’s poet laureate, Fr. Pier Giorgio Di Cicco says what’s surprised him the most is the “unspoken need for spirituality” in Canada’s largest and most prosperous city.

Di Cicco told The Register in an e-mail interview that there has been a surprisingly “deep civic hunger” in the city. He said his presentations, talks and city-building initiatives to different community groups echoed “a call to a common spiritual language.”

But this need for spirituality is being “drowned out by entrepreneurial macho and business ethic,” Di Cicco adds. 

The solution? Di Cicco says it’s by building a “creative city.”

The problem with most cities nowadays, Di Cicco explains — aside from too much of a bureaucratic make-up — is that the constant cry for community comes without an understanding that community needs “communion or union with each other as citizens sharing the same habitat.”

“We live in a world where the government knows more about us than our neighbours do,” he said.

“Civil encounter is under siege, eroded by an average of five hours a day in front of screens: No one in public spaces, though we design them well and handily. No children playing in the streets,” Di Cicco continued.

This, in turn, leads to a “sanitary city” instead of a creative one which considers things like the quality of life, education and the role of public service, the former poet laureate laments.

The ideal city, he argues, is one where “neighbours can depend on each other, demonstrate loyalty, appear to each other as currency of self-sacrifice for the good of the whole.”

And if people can’t discover God in each other, Di Cicco says, “that’s a failed city.”

During his tenure, Di Cicco has approached his role beyond art advocacy and into a kind of urban consultancy. The laureateship, he said, can also be a venue to show that citizens can be creative about their lives and each other. This kind of city building will lead to a better understanding of the arts and can make “an art of the city,” he added.

Di Cicco says he tried to remove the notion of art as “destination point” and introduce the concept of urban citizenship as “the engine of creativity, and the hope for true spirituality.” He coined the term “civic esthetic” which has been referred to in forums like the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities and conferences on urban planning. (“Civic esthetic” refers to the building of a city by civic ethic, citizenship and urban psychology.)

Born in Arezzo, Italy, he grew up in Baltimore and Toronto. Since 1976, Di Cicco has authored 17 collections of poetry and produced the first anthology of Italian-Canadian writers. In 1984, he became an Augustinian Brother and was ordained to the priesthood.

In 2004, Di Cicco was a University of Toronto visiting professor in Italian Studies and appointed as Toronto’s second poet laureate. Di Cicco finishes his laureateship this year and will continue as the principal of Municipal Mind, a new urban consultancy group.

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