A Sense Of Place

Sense of Place
A Sense of Place
Gaining a Sense of Place
Building a Sense of Place
Thinking about a Sense of Place
Thinking about Thinking about a Sense of Place


A Place Is What It Is

John B. Smith

Bottom line — a place is what it is.  A physical reality.  It exists, or at least we have to assume it exists if we and everything else are not to become part of the butterfly’s dream.  It is not goodbadbeautifuluglyvaluableworthless . . .  It just is.


Everything  beyond what is is a matter of perception.  We sense it.  We see it. We hear it.  We smell it.  We see beauty, ugliness, or we may not attend to it in an aesthetic manner.  We may attend to it abstractly, noting what others have said or measured of it.


Thereby, we may come to understand that any sense of place is one sense of place among many.  Thus, there is no The Sense of Place, only one sense of place that is likely to soon be replaced by another sense of place.


Over time, we may realize that in the accumulation of different senses of place we are gaining a sense of place — a richer composite characterized by the multiple awarenesses that we have had over time but can recall on reflection.  And, thus, we can play one against another.


This gained sense of place may just happen.  Without any attempt on our part to direct or control our perception.  But, perhaps a bit mysteriously, we may find our interest piqued and we begin to direct our attention to specific parts or aspects of place.  We may focus on the native plants that grow there, or the birds that live or fly through, or the history of the place — natural, cultural, or other.  Thus, we may more or less consciously begin building a sense of place.


As we continue building a sense of place, we may become more conscious that we can, at least in part, direct our perception and thought processes.  We may begin to see some larger pattern in the different facets of perception or information that are part of our sense of place.  If so, we may elect to extend some of them, or we may see that several of them suggest another line of inquiry that would complement them.  We may come to realize that our sense of place needs to take into account what lies beyond its borders, such as a neighbor’s riparian area that extends our woodcock habitat, or his field of invasives that come to visit, or his plans to develop or drill.  We may also come to see how subtle but how strong a role language plays as we build our sense and try to describe it to others.  How easily and unconsciously we may write gain for build when we haven’t really decided which it is.


So where does this leave us?  We began with the notion that a place simply exists.  Beyond that, we can gain or build an unlimited numbers of perspectives.  On balance, we optimists would like to believe that they give us an enriched sense of place.  But they are all snapshots — in place, in time, in historical progression, in values.  Especially values, because they guide our efforts to promote ecological diversity in a way that probably never existed before or aesthetic appreciation for a landscape that was not seen previously. There is no real notion of restoration, only a new and, according to our values, better future.  And it’s so ephemeral.  Not just the place, itself, but our sense of it.  So we try to hold on to it as best we can.