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Sunday June 25th 2017

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Sense of Place


By

photo by Bo Insogna (flickr creative commons https://flic.kr/p/asddPf)

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it …” Joan Didion

It was the Greeks who first conceived of a place having a soul, its genus loci. More than the spirits found in inanimate objects, the soul of a place ascribed a supernatural element to the geography. When was the last time that you looked over your shoulder into the woods, with the fleeting feeling that there was something or someone there. This edge of mind companion is something we have all experienced and is usually followed by the realization that on the lake we are both surrounded by the elements of nature and also one of those parts.

But there is no real sense of place until the things that have happened in it are remembered in some way. A sense of place is nourished by the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or snowstorms, valuing it for the time and emotion that you, your parents and grandparents, and hopefully your children have and will put into it. So just as each generation passes something of itself on to those who follow—each place on the earth is shaped and refined by those who experience it.

Sense of place is a concept beyond geography, it is more than three dimensional; it can be reflected in a state of mind, a set of values, an accent or idiom that brings with it flashes of an entire culture or lifestyle.  A sense of place is shaped by the landscape, the buildings, and the people of that place.  As individuals, as families and as participants in community organizations, we give meaning to, shape the history of, and form part of our community. In so doing each of us plays an active role in the evolution of the sense of place where we live.

Some are born in their place, some find it, some realize after long searching that the place they left is the one they have been searching for. But whatever their relation to it, it is a place very slowly and very carefully, being shaped by a form of divine sculpture—centuries of the erosion and accretion of laughter and sorrow, people and nature, landscape and waterscape, wind and waves.

A sense of place must be constantly nurtured to be sustained because as they grow communities can lose their memory, along with their character. Many of our towns and cities have changed so fast and so much over the past five decades that memory cannot cling to them; they are unrecognizable to anyone who knew them a generation ago. And the form of change has been so generic, that they tend to become more and more alike.


Follow Bob Lehman on twitter @fellowplanner

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