I had the opportunity last evening to meet with a wonderful group of individuals who were kind enough to share with me their vision for the future of their community – and a little bit of their past as well.
It makes me think about the incredible contribution that ‘place’ makes in shaping who we are and how we view the world and brings me to a lovely, warm and nostalgic place regarding my own childhood.
I grew up in Hamilton at the very limit of urban development. Behind our townhouse condominium was a large meadow and beyond that, farmers fields. I remember lying in bed, listening to the faint sounds of our neighbouring farmer and their guests playing guitar and singing around outdoor summer fires. I cherish the memory of the ‘secret’ tree-fort we built in the bush at the edge of their field and I recall the feeling of awe mingled with fear when I discovered the home of some very large snakes amidst a pile of rocks. We caught bugs, picked flowers and spied on groundhogs - laying for what seemed like hours in the grass waiting for them to peek out their heads.
And I remember the sadness of my 10 year old self when they placed the first survey stakes marking the location of a future expressway through our meadow – and the empowerment I felt as we later pulled them out, naively thinking that we could prevent the inevitable.
Though I grew up in the city, I feel that this place contributed greatly to the person I am today and my heart is heavy that it exists now only in my memory.
This connection…this relationship… is an example of a ‘Sense of Place’.
It’s knowing a place, experiencing it, loving it, suffering it – it’s a unique individual experience but also contributes to the collective understanding and connection with the place and the other people that relate to it, that share in it. It’s the difference between ‘space’ and ‘place’. It’s community.
Sense of Place in Planning
In planning, it is a goal to preserve and enhance a community’s sense of place. Heritage building preservation, for example, is one such effort. The buildings tell a story. They are evidence of past tradition and a focal point for remembering and sharing.
In rural areas however this goal is, in my opinion, more difficult to attain. Certainly the acknowledgement of historic place names would reflect such an effort but describing the character of the community in a way that can be shared – and respected or protected through planning documents (such as our Official Plan) is tricky. This is one of the reasons that it is so incredibly important to broadly consult on land use decisions. Since place is such an individual experience, a large number of perspectives are needed to accurately capture a description of what we are trying to preserve.
Have you experienced this feeling of connection? What is it about where you live that makes it feel like home? I’d love to hear your stories as I work to understand this diverse municipality’s places and communities.