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What is Sense of Place?

September 22, 2017

 

To develop a sense of place, you must know where you are. And, when you truly know where you are, you will also know who you are.

 

Of course we all know where we are, in a way. I, for example, am in Salt Lake City, Utah right now, sitting at a tiny little desk in my tiny little room in my shared apartment near the school where I'm getting my master's degree. But my sense of this place, of Salt Lake City and of Utah, extends far beyond the obvious. 

 

Okay, let's be real here. I've only lived in SLC for one year so far. Before that, I lived in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. I grew up there, and before this move I had never been outside of Oregon for more than a month at a time. I have a much deeper connection with Oregon than I do with Utah. But, the exciting thing about living in a new place is that it gives you the chance to learn all about that place. Here, I'm in a different ecosystem, with different plants, and different winds, and different lengths of summer sunlight. Now is the time to develop a sense of place here in Utah.

 

Sense of place means paying attention to more than just the built, urban environment. It means noticing, and taking the time to learn the names of your non-human neighbors. If you have a good sense of place, if you know your home well, you'll know at least some of the following:

 

- The names of several bird species, including whether they migrate, where they live, and when they pass through

- The names of several plant and tree species, including the first to bloom in the spring and the last to lose its leaves in the fall

- The source of your water

- Where your trash is taken

- The names of a few constellations, and which seasons they're visible

- Where the sun rises and sets in relation to your home

- The names of most mountains and hills around your town

- The nearest water source (river, lake, creek, etc.) to your house

 

These were all once common knowledge. Now they are rare bits of connection, possessed only by those who pay close attention to the world around them. Even in a concrete city like Salt Lake, there are still turkey vultures revolving above the cottonwoods, and Venus still shines, just there above my neighbor's roof. We are still in it, you see. A city is still part of the environment; it is still alive, still moves with the seasons, still hosts animals and plants and moonlight. It's time we reclaimed our place in this ecosystem.

 

 

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