When I was in China last month I spent a day in Hangzhou, a city of 7 million a few hours southwest of Shanghai. Like most Chinese cities, it has a temple for the god of the city. These gods serve as the spiritual counterpart to living local officials, protect their cities from all manor of problems (wars, natural disasters, crop failures), and also address the individual needs of residents.
Hangzhou’s current city god temple is not very old; it was built in the 1990s. But nonetheless it is beautiful, and well-sited. Surrounded by trees, it sits on Wu Hill, not far from the Hangzhou Museum, looking out at the entire city. Here’s the view from the temple toward West Lake:
And the view looking east, toward Hangzhou’s business district:
I’m not very religious, but the city god is a concept I can get behind. I’m thinking of America’s Rust Belt cities, struggling to reinvent themselves given new post-industrial realities. Or Washington, DC, which so often gets swallowed up by the federal government. Or New Orleans. These places could all use a god just for them, to give an extra push where us mere mortals fail.
Or a super-hero. Or a fairy god-mother. I’m not picky.