Whenever I call for Canberra to board and lodge an occasional distinguished and stimulating Thinker-In-Residence one of the ripper thinkers I imagine us inviting is Sir Roger Scruton the philosopher and writer.
Some of his major passions, aesthetics and urban architecture and city planning, overlap a lot and he is famous for expressing (eloquently) his horror at what he says we are doing to make our cities ugly and dehumanised. Installed in Canberra for a few weeks he'd give thinking Canberrans a lot to think about.
He is especially on my mind at the moment because his latest foray, his essay Streets With Nooks and Crannies Are Beloved and Endangered has just popped up online and deals with something dear to my own city-studying heart.
Quite well-travelled and familiar with nook-rich cities I've always been struck by Canberra's tragic nooklessness and crannylessness. How often, in our inner city and in suburbia, the strolling wanderer, bored, comes across nothing but the sheer expected.
Sad as this is already one fears it will become worse as the city is increasingly festooned with the sorts of big, brute buildings Sir Roger expresses alarm about in his Streets With Nooks and Crannies.
"Nooks and crannies occur in an ancient town like the endearing wrinkles on an aged face," he muses.
"But how can they be incorporated into [today's new] buildings constructed on the principles of curtain-wall architecture? Unbroken sheets of glass, prefabricated panels, steel girders - these are the basic units of construction, and all resist the kind of random puncturing and cobbling that [once] subordinated the work of the architect to the changing needs of the community.
"A building may appeal for its formal perfection ... [but can lack] any offerings of intriguing apertures, invitations to enter, to explore, to imagine.
"The much-loved villages of Provence and the Italian Riviera provide few examples of formal perfection. But they abound in doorways, passages and cul-de-sacs; in secret stairs and alleyways ... in sheds and troughs that serve the needs of the invisible gnomes who haunt the place.
How often, in our inner city and in suburbia, the strolling wanderer, bored, comes across nothing but the sheer expected.
"Why are nooks and crannies no longer produced? One reason is that their value is not understood, and in any case no longer taught as part of place-making. Classical architecture used mouldings and shadows to create mystery and intimacy within the geometrically organized forms ... But that free response to human need fits ill with our modern ways of building."
Sir Roger notes that nooks and crannies best abound in ancient cities but youngish Canberra's special, sterile crannylessness is due in part to Canberra's planners' relentlessly anal-retentive obsession with urban neatness, uniformity and conformity. The city has been and still is managed by nookandcrannyphobic city fathers. Swathes of the city look and feel as if they are designed to repel Sir Roger's valued mystery and intimacy, to drive the invisible gnomes away.
What is to be done to introduce a welcoming nooklust, an appreciative crannyphilia to the way we go about building our beloved (but often dull and tight-corseted) city? Let us invite Sir Roger, now, today, to come and stay with us and stoke us up with handy hints.
Whooosh! Pow! Blam! Scrrrrunch! Screech! Vroom!
The perpetrator came through a red light, hit my innocent VW a glancing, scraping blow, and then with a screech of tyres vroomed guiltily away from the scene.
I only mention my prang (minor in the Great Scheme Of Things) because of its deeper, theological implications.
Trying to put myself in the perpetrator's car, in her shoes, I realise how incapable I would be of fleeing from the scene of something wrong that I had done. And yet I realise that this has nothing to do with my being morally superior to the perpetrator (let us call him Rasputin, almost certainly not his real name) who I dare say has overall led a far more blameless life than my own shame-packed, regret-pocked saga.
No, it is that in spite of my no longer believing in God He or She is still a posthumous presence in my life. If I caused a prang I would feel, strongly, superstitiously, that even if no mortals had witnessed it God most certainly had. This would mean that a giant blob of Guilt would envelop me and unbearably dog me until I had owned up.
In Rasputin's boots, in his car, I wouldn't have been able to hurtle away. Staying, to apologise perhaps (for having shaken up a senior citizen and designated ACT Living Treasure old enough to be his father) and to make a courteous exchange of personal and insurance information, would have been for me the selfish, sanity-preserving way to go.
The alternative, having God figuratively following me everywhere in Her eye-in-the-sky royal helicopter, frowning disapprovingly at me for the rest of my days, Her accusation "Red-light running hooligan!" somehow supernaturally tattooed on my brow for all to see and her righteous angel-drones always buzzing around my head, would be unthinkable.
I bear Rasputin whoever he is no ill-will whatsoever.
Perhaps he scurries off because he is already burdened, in this vale of tears and with cold, cruel, Pentecostal government, with so many disadvantages and woes that a traffic crime would be the last straw for him. I am praying for him (even though I'm pretty sure there is no God to listen to prayers) and hoping that his mind is free of the religious relics that seem to still be cluttering mine.