Friday, January 29, 2010

Lost and Found: A Sense of Place

We live our lives in places; physical places like cities, towns, metropolitan areas, secret hiding places, nooks and crevices, while also inhabiting the non-physical places of our inner landscape: our emotions, consciousness, relationships, lifestyles and personal decisions. Physical place gives form, context, and structure to our inner, intangible space, impacting our relationships to one another, shaping and delimiting the sphere of our existence and experience.

To the extent that we are aware of and rooted in the outer and inner places that we inhabit, we achieve intimate connectedness and deep knowledge of the peculiarities and nuances and history of our selves and our surroundings, cultivating a sense of belonging and identification with ourselves and our location in the universe; a "sense of place."

You know it when you feel it.  A sense of place is a sense that you are at home, somewhere special, authentic, and unique. A sense that there is nowhere else in the world quite like it, a feeling of connection to the details-species of trees, architecture, cuisine, music, local business, history, nuances of speech- the peculiarities that have co-evolved in one location to create the identity that sets a particular place apart.

Obstacles to establishing a sense of place in abound in our modern world: mobility, time constraints, and technology strain our ability to connect. The bland architecture and homogeneous community design pervading much of the landscape developed in the past 50 years leaves us less to connect with. I believe this loss of connection to place is tightly related to loss of connection to community, self, and spirit, and poses a serious threat to the health of individuals and society. When we lose these connections, we seek to fill the hole left in our lives. This seeking can be constructive (art, spirituality, community), or destructive (consumerism in all of its myriad forms).

All around me, I am observing efforts to re-establish and reconnect ourselves with place, and I believe these efforts are signs that as humans, we recognize the need to know where we are, and to have a place to call home. This is what I want to focus on in this space.

Place hopes to address and explore the following:
  • What is the role of place in our lives?
  • How do the kinds of places we live in shape the events we encounter, our outlooks, our opportunities?
  • How and where are people connecting with place today?
  • How do place and technology interact?
  • How do we connect to place in our increasingly mobile world?
  • How does place impact the nature of individuals, families, communities?
Although Place is about place as a concept and will not strictly be about Metropolitan Detroit, as a native and resident my perspective and information will certainly be colored by my attachment to this particular place, with all of its attendant beauty and tribulations.