01 June 2008

Temples on the Edge

Las Vegas Nevada Temple

Many LDS Temples have, and are currently, being built at the outer perimeter of cities, literally at the edge where urban and rural meet. In fact over half of the current Temples in the US exist at this edge of development (35 out of 66). One third of Temples in the US are squarely in the suburbs (22 out of 66), while just nine in the US exist at or near the city center. Almost all of these edge Temples have been built since 1998 with new Temple sites continuing to be chosen at the edges of development. While the idea to bring the Temples to the people is a good one, the placement of Temples at the edge is not the best solution for providing Temple opportunities to all people in a given Temple district. The following are reasons in support of placing a Temple at the center of a city, town, or metro area.

Las Vegas Nevada Aerial (red dot is Temple)

1. Decreases travel. Where the Temple is at an extreme edge of the city, people on the other side of a given city have to travel across the entire metro area. If the Temple were at the center, travel would be evenly distributed for all wishing to attend, including patrons and workers.

2. People without a car can’t attend most LDS Temples in the US. With locations of Temples at the edge, there are limited transit options other than the automobile. At the city centers, the transit options are maximized for rich and poor alike, providing the best and the most frequent transit alternatives for any given city. I am reminded of one of my favorite movies, New York Doll, which showed Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane, a volunteer in the Family History Library at the Los Angeles Temple, heading there on a city bus. Most of our Temples are not along frequent bus lines that would make such a trip feasible. A Temple at the center would allow equal opportunity for all to attend; especially lower income families and students. For instance, here in Portland it is impossible to travel to the Temple, which is located in a residential suburb, using public transit.

3. Discourages sprawl. There are many problems and issues with developing land on the edge. Adding infrastructure, adding new utility lines, clearing the land, adding roads, impact fees, zoning problems, height restrictions, neighbors who don’t want lots of traffic, bright lights, or a large building next to their home. This would not be a problem in city centers. The infrastructure is already in place and there are plenty of infill sites in every city rather than developing virgin land. These Brownfield sites are everywhere and can be used to help maximize the use of underdeveloped land. Often there are even incentives and significant city support for developing such sites, meaning they will do everything to help the project move forward and be a success.

Sacramento California Temple

Sacramento California Aerial (red dot is Temple)

4. Supports the pattern established in the Plat for the City of Zion where Temples are located at the center. In the Old Testament we read that the Lord "…will set [His] sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore…And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore." (Ezekiel 37:26,28) The word midst means "the interior or central part or point: MIDDLE." Even in Jerusalem, the Temple was able to exist in the profane city, being in, but not of the world, through a series of thresholds separating the two spheres of existence.

5. Less land needed. A smaller lot size can be purchased in the center helping to offset the higher land costs of building in the city. Building at the edge offers the allurement of cheap land, but there are other costs. Out on the edge you need an enormous landscape of parking for vehicles since there will be very few other options to travel to the Temple. At the center of the city, you may not need parking at all, ideally being able to rely on an adjacent parking garage.

6. More people in the community will see and visit the Temple. This will allow the Temple to have a greater influence on the community as well as fostering a more open relationship with people in the community. The act of putting a Temple at the center of the community shows them our desire to integrate, contribute, and be involved, rather than remain isolated at the perimeter. The closer to the city center, the more likely it will be used and recognized as an asset to the community. People would respond more favorably if we were seen as one of them. Our role would move from a fringe group on the outside of society and culture to one of acceptance, understanding, and tolerance right at the heart of the action. Just as no one will respond to the message of the Gospel until they know you care and are a friend, people need to see our Temples as a friend to them in the community. When more people can see and touch and feel our Temples, even if only from the outside, the presence of it in the city will help them open up more to us.

Redlands California Temple Aerial (red area is Temple)

These concepts will help fulfill President Hinckley’s goal of bringing the Temples to the people. After the bulk of his Temple-building had been completed, Hinckley stated, "…we are not satisfied. We will keep on working to bring the temples to the people, making it more convenient for Latter-day Saints everywhere to receive the blessings which can only be had in these holy houses." (The Work Goes On Apr 2001 Gen Conf) Placing the Temples at the center rather than the edge will help make the Temples of the Church more accessible for all and readily available to the people, as well as being better for the environment and increasing our presence in the communities in which we live.

Albuquerque New Mexico Temple

Albuquerque New Mexico Aerial (red area is Temple)

Albuquerque New Mexico Aerial (red dot is Temple)

Amazing Sites used to gather data for this post:
LDS Church Temples
Live Search Maps
Google Transit

"Well, I'd say the Church has gone as far as it can in putting temples closer to the Saints."
Kent Christensen in Sunstone Issue 97 Dec 1994


Unknown said...

Generally, I agree. I would love to see the church build temples and chapels closer to the center of metro areas. But I disagree with some of your statements:

"Adding infrastructure, adding new utility lines, clearing the land, adding roads, impact fees, zoning problems, height restrictions, neighbors who don’t want lots of traffic, bright lights, or a large building next to their home. This would not be a problem in city centers."

I think you are overly optimistic about how welcoming inner-city residents would be towards the construction of a temple in their neighborhood. I would expect just as much opposition towards the construction of a temple in the city than in the suburbs.

Also, I'm not sure I agree with your #5. I expect that even if the church bought far less land to build closer towards the center of a metro area and didn't provide ANY parking, the costs of developing within the central city would still be greater than developing on suburban greenfields.

I also have one thought that may be a complication for your argument:

1. The vast majority of US church members prefer and live in suburban areas, so if you were to take a poll of existing members, I expect most would prefer temples located in suburban areas with free parking.

Amy Nielson said...

The Sacramento temple was built on land that the church already owned so that probably made the process easier. Maybe thats the case with other temples too. Is there any info about how they obtain the land for different locations? It would be nice to have temples accesible for public transit but I feel that they choose locations for the temples based on inspiration. I feel that the general authorities do a lot of research of where to put the temples. I bet in Vegas they didn't want a temple amidst all the casinos so they would have to put it far away so people wouldn't think it's some "worldly" building.

Julie said...

While it may be difficult to tell how much resistance there would be to building a temple in a city, cities by their very nature are made up of very large (including large churches/cathedrals) buildings that draw traffic, etc. Suburban areas are not made up that way.

It is probably true that it would still be more expensive to build in a city, even a smaller piece of land, especially considering you want to be in a nice part of the city, not some ghetto area.

One thing I for sure agree with is that if you took a poll people would want the temples to stay in suburban areas, for a couple of reasons. One, that's how it has been done for a long time and we don't like change. Two, we tend to be generally anit-city, seeing them as a source of all things bad.

As far as the role of inspiration in the placement of temples, I think like a lot of things in life, God expects us to use what we have been given to make decisions on our own, and that there are any number of places that would be fine with God as temple sites. I am sure a lot of thought and research is put into choosing sites, we just don't know what criteria they are using for their choices.

green mormon architect said...

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and comments. I just have a couple of follow-up thoughts. Putting up a building anywhere is challenging and will have its obstacles, so I didn’t mean to be too simplistic. There definitely would be challenges from building in a city, they would just be different than those in residential or undeveloped neighborhoods. One difference between city dwellers and suburban dwellers is that those living in dense urban districts like having other people around because it brings safety, diversity and business whereas suburban dwellers just don't want people around their neighborhood.

It’s a good point that many of the recent Temples are built on land the Church already owns, which definitely saves money and allows a shared use of the parking. But the problem still remains that the only way to get to most of this property is using a car. And since most members of the Church have a vehicle, they don’t recognize that many people do not own a vehicle. When those people join the Church, they will have a hard time staying active in the Church without a vehicle because of the locations of our Temples. Most likely they will eventually fall away. By having a Temple at the center, access is equalized and fair for all and available to the young, old, rich and poor since all transit lines end up in the center. And having a Temple on the edge is only close for those members who live at that edge. Members who live on the other suburban edges have even farther to travel than if it were at the center.

As far as what members would prefer, I'm not sure I follow how that has relevance here since member preference doesn't play into other decisions of the Church.

And maybe I'm odd, but I would love to see a Temple adjacent to and in direct contrast to the Las Vegas strip…

Anonymous said...

I was drawn here by your link at BCC. You make interesting observations. I wish to point out concerning the Las Vegas Temple, that it is only six miles straight down Bonanza from Las Vegas City Hall. One memorable morning, I was in the middle of downtown before school for some odd reason. I drove down Bonanza with every light turning green for me, and made it to Eldorado High School (a mile and a half directly west of the present-day temple) in under ten minutes. In other words, the Las Vegas Temple really isn't at all hard to reach from downtown. There is a bus route (208) that stops at the temple and is scheduled to take to take 35 minutes to get there from the Downtown Transit Center.

green mormon architect said...


Thanks for your comments about the public transit lines in Las Vegas. I have not tried to use public transit in Vegas, so it’s good to know there is a direct line to the Temple. My main concern would still be that most using the Temple would not be coming from downtown, but from their home. Generally it is easy to get to the center using public transit, but to get from one edge to the other (or one suburb to the other) is difficult without a car. In some cases, it is not possible, in others cases multiple transfers would be required, making the trip painfully long.

Granted, Las Vegas is probably one of the worst cities for trying to live without a car, but here in Portland, quite a few do live without a car, and Temple attendance is impossible for them. Obviously they could hitch a ride with others, but that takes away the flexibility of when and how often they could go.

BHodges said...

Really interesting post, thanks. (I somewhat disagree that this is a huge issue, but I really like your views and am glad you went through the trouble of compiling them.)

green mormon architect said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your supportive comments LifeOnaPlate. For me, part of the importance of this issue that I didn’t really touch on in the post, involves retention of less actives and new members. In wards I have been in, most of those joining the Church are the poor and humble, and as such, have limited means. These are the people using public transit every day. Even with a friend in the Church, easy access to Temple ordinances, in my opinion, would help with their retention, since it is so easy to fall away as a new member without frequent good Temple experiences.

BHodges said...

This has been a problem since the restoration began, as you are likely aware. I feel you, too. I served in some poor urban areas in Milwaukee, and it would take a lot to get to the temple in Chicago, and that's not even that far to go.

As a parenthetical and interesting FYI, in the 50s I believe it was proposed to David O. McKay that a traveling temple be purchased- a cruise ship. The plan was considered, but fell through. (See Greg Prince's bio on McKay for more.)

Anonymous said...

Where are the non-U.S. temples being built these days? I wonder if they're following the same pattern. In much of the Third World, especially, average families don't have cars.

I've been to the temples in both Mexico City and Lima, Peru, and both were easily accessible by public transit. And while I took a taxi to the temple in Guayaquil, Ecuador, as I recall it turned out to be in a reasonably central location (although not downtown).

And I, too, have taken a bus to the Las Vegas temple. It was very easy to get to (and to see from many places in the city).

Anonymous said...

The Reno Temple is several miles from the center of town, a two-mile walk up a steep hill from the nearest bus stop. If someone does not have a car, they just can't get there.

Anonymous said...

(Belated comment ...) Of course even placing a temple in a "city center" does not insure easy accessibility if it's a small town like Manti or Nauvoo where public transit is nearly nonexistent but I imagine you're mainly referring to larger population areas.

In the other cases noted, I think it's a little sad to think of temple attendance as such a individualistic endeavor that someone would really find themselves in the position of regularly having to get to a temple alone or on public transit. This is exactly the sort of church activity, especially in rural and developing areas, that seems to cry out for group coordination, ride sharing, and the like. There should always be someone a member could call on to set up temple transportation. It shouldn't be that hard to coordinate, like ward temple nights.

DavidC said...

I stumbled upon you blog earlier this morning and I'm really enjoying it. Just a small note. I am red/green colorblind and when you indicate items on maps and other images in red, I often cannot distinguish the dot because it blends in. Just thought you might want to consider changing it for blue or yellow. Don't mean to sound petty, but I'd like to know where you're indicating things in the future and it'd be nice to see the colors. Thanks for the blog. I find it very interesting.