All About PLACE
A brief introduction to the impact of PLACE on the lives of human beings.
Place connects people and gives them a sense of belonging and rootedness. Place contextualises people and allows dynamic, social interactions to be possible. Place affects people and yet can be structured and affected by those living within it, creating a mutually dependent relationship. Therefore, understanding what it means to be human is connected to understanding place. In addition, being purposeful about investing and caring for place becomes an aspect of investing and caring for people.
People are increasingly fascinated with the people and objects in places, but place itself has not demanded the same attention. As people and objects become mobile over larger distances, the significance of creating and valuing connections to a place has shifted into the background.
Human lives are intimately affected by place, so why has this topic slipped out of our consciousness? Ingenious scientific discoveries and engineering developments have shifted the cultural context within which people live, create, and research. These developments occurred over years and through eras of development. Industrialisation brought mass change to regional landscapes, homogenising variants within places. Developments in the fields of travel, energy, and communication have altered perceptions of place and shifted the boundaries in which people function. Participation in the global economy is easier now than ever before because travel is accessible and cyberspace allows for easier interaction. Food, fuel, entertainment, and merchandise can be shared around the world. Not only objects move globally; people move as well. Electronic developments have revolutionised the world so that where one lives is irrelevant as long as one is connected through technology. With such technology, communication is instantaneous, political and geographic borders are ignored, and the floodgates regulating the flow of information are opened. Social divisions created by money, language, and education are overcome with ingenuity and access to the Internet. Time and space are prioritised, as globalisation and virtual reality allow people and objects to move at great speed through places.
The benefits of advanced technology and global markets come with a danger that one will forget about places that give people their unique perspective from which they interact with the larger global network. Place contains historical meaning, exists prior to and after human life, and is affected by humanity. Place provides continuity and identity across generations. It creates such powerful connections that when people want to break away from their past, they often break away from the place of their past. For as significant as scientific and engineering developments have been and for as worthwhile as their pursuits continue to be, people sometimes obscure the value of place—the particular somewhere.
As the effects from a diminished value of place become noticeable in a growing sense of restlessness and rootedness, a growing number of people are re-focusing efforts to understand the significance of place and what it means for the individual as well as for society. Scholars in disciplines such as architecture, ecology, geography, philosophy, and sociology have renewed their interests in the significance of place. These scholars are asking questions related to how large or small "place" can be, or how individuals experience connection to place when globalisation changes traditionally held boundaries. In the last fifty years people have shown a renewed interest in celebrating the particular somewhere.
The conversation is also evolving at the grassroots level as many people are making the effort to notice and enjoy the particularities of place with the nuance and uniqueness of that which is local or regional. Take for instance the growing interest in Western, urban communities to forego cheap and convenient food in preference for local, seasonal produce. This trend is evident in the growing interest in farmers’ markets and "farm-to-fork" restaurants. "Terroir" has been a valued quality within the wine industry, and it is now informing consumers’ choices in a wide range of products such as honey, chocolate, coffee, and even microbrew beer.
Other grassroots organisations, such as Will Allen’s “Growing Power”, tackle issues such as “food deserts” (areas with limited or no access to affordable and nutritious food) which are unintentional effects of shaping urban landscapes. Allen’s slow transformation of an impoverished place brought about a transformation in the people of the community. Children worked along side him, getting their hands dirty and learning the value of persistence, investment in long-term projects, and care for nature. Personal investment made residents take a greater interest in their place. They pulled weeds, planted flowers, and paid attention to the land. Beautification of place resulted in drug dealers moving to other locations. Allen’s greenhouse became a source of affordable produce for the locals—produce that they helped to grow. Even more, it became a source of hope and of courage to engage, connect, and change the context within which people live.
Place is powerful and has the ability to transform humanity as much as humanity has the ability to transform place. Place is not a zero-sum game in which a person’s gain is equivalent to another person’s loss. Individuals, community, and land are mutually beneficial, so strengthening one adds to the viability of the whole. Respecting the integrity of the natural world ultimately serves to strengthen all elements of society imbedded in it. When humanity assimilates that perspective and lives accordingly, place and people both are affected and thrive at their highest potential.