Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone’s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.
When we talk about place-making or sense of place, it’s easy to get lost in the limbo of jargon understood by only a few engaged in this evolving field. In recent years, there has been a coming together of several different disciplines and movements to create a new way of addressing issues that affect our quality of life. It seems that its taken a while for the phrase “Think globally, act locally” to truly sink in, but there are encouraging signs that this is happening, and that it includes a broad range of groups—from urban planners, who have always been strongly tied to place, to social justice activists looking to link neighborhood and community initiatives to a broader analysis of cultural and political trends in our society.
Particularly encouraging are changes in the environmental field, where organizations and policymakers are realizing the power of place to inform people’s understanding and valuing of the environment. Cultivating a sense of place not only asks that we think about acting locally or our immediate environment but also connects what we see and how we feel when we step out of our homes to issues that affect communities across the globe. Place can be an organizing principle that values the unique cultural, political and geographic circumstances of where we live, and helps connect perspectives and disciplines that might differ or be at odds. In a place-based initiative, we can have groups concerned about water quality issues connected to those advocating for changes in health care and those looking at developing housing.
Place can help us see common interests despite differing concerns. And place can make us more sensitive to other communities that might be producing our energy or consumer goods, or simply facing challenges similar to our own. Place also forces us to slow down, to connect with the ground beneath our feet and the people with whom we share the street. If home is where the heart is, developing a sense of place, no matter what our calling, is central to building healthier and more sustainable communities.