Messianic Urbanism

I mentioned Tom Zoellner’s book Uranium the other day, in the context of atomic geology, but there is another brief comment in that book worth calling attention to here.

[Image: Azadi Tower in Tehran’s Azadi Square].

At one point late in the book, Zoellner is discussing Iran’s uranium-processing program and that country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who, as Zoellner points out, earned his doctorate in Traffic and Transport. Ahmadinejad, that is, is an urban designer. However, he “is also said to be a fervent believer in a Shiite folk belief,” Zoellner writes. This “folk belief” is “the return of the ‘hidden imam,’ a holy man who disappeared in the ninth century and is believed by Shiites to be the Mahdi, a salvation figure whose dramatic reentry into the world will trigger a final confrontation between good and evil before the dawning of a final age of justice and peace. This is not found in the Koran, but millions believe it to be true.”

This Second Coming, as it were, or the eagerly awaited return of someone or something that left us long ago, has its own spatial requirements, however—and, Zoellner again points out, “There have also been reports that the president—a doctor of traffic—has studied the layout of Tehran to make sure the city can handle the crush of people who will arrive for the imam’s first procession.”

The idea that the Second Coming of a messianic figure—from any religion—will bring with it enormous traffic-engineering concerns is something that had not, in fact, occurred to me. What would Tom Vanderbilt have to say about this, I wonder?

But has there been any serious study of what we might call messianic urbanism: the theologically motivated preemptive re-design of a city in order that that metropolis might better receive a future, supernatural guest? Somewhere between the work of Walter Benjamin and Robert Moses, it would be the city spatially formatted in an urbanism of End Times arrival.

13 thoughts on “Messianic Urbanism”

  1. Per Islamic prophecy, once Jesus returns, he'll hide (temporarily) from besiegers behind the walls of Damascus. But half the walls of the old city are gone, which prevents fulfillment of the prophecy by standard readings. So that's a possibility for theologically motivated urban renewal…

  2. Luckily, somewhere deep beneath the ocean, a targeting officer on a ballistic nuclear missile submarine has the Azadi Tower completely dialed in. I, for one, would avoid that roundabout.

  3. There's somewhere, I think it's Saudi Arabia, where the authorities are fond of demolishing and tarmacking over sites that are significant to Muslims but that aren't related directly to the Prophet Muhammad – the tombs of his family, for instance. Wiki has an article on it. That could be considered a sort of messianic urbanism, or possibly anti-messianic urbanism.

    Also, what's a "doctor of traffic"?

  4. the reason is for religious purpose or Political? that can be blur…
    that the plan for the traffic is for messianic or military movement?, case study like Paris that design by Haussman that have political purpose background.

  5. I think this is the sort of problem that many city planners have to deal with any time the Olympics, World Cup, Commonwealth Games or any other large-scale sports tournament-style event comes to their city. How do you plan to 'house' and 'feed' thousands of transient people who will stay for no longer than two weeks, at most? I think any Olympics committee will be able to answer this question, albeit awkwardly. Use Cape Town, South Africa (been there, so I know) as probably one of the worst examples of a 'transit' system for a city slated to hold the future soccer tournament. I wish them luck.

  6. I don't know which is more silly, to call Ahmadinejad an Urban Designer or to present the Azadi Square as messianic design! Ahmadi probably has some bogus degree and couldn't care less about design. And the Azadi Square was designed by a Zoroastrian architect before the Islamic Revolution and is a national symbol….

  7. huh! talking about Ahmadinejad's urbanism/traffic engineering is like talking about George W Bush's theories on economics. He has just earned a degree in Traffic Planning through cronyism, ok? please don't be so naive! Also that thing about his study of Tehran for the second coming is pure myth probably made up by Zoellner himself. I as an Iranian have never heard such a thing (although there are many anecdotes going around about his messianic idiocies.

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