Whether one is a long-time resident or a newcomer, spending time in a place creates memories and experiences, which become part of person’s individual and community identity. Relationships between people and places are transactional: people take something (positive or negative) from and give or do things to the environment; these acts may alter the environment’s influence on the people.
May is National Preservation Month and to many it’s all about old buildings. I understand some are uneasy with historic preservation however it is entwined with our daily lives. It is not just about the built environment but a “sense of place”.
When I say “a sense of place”, I mean the feeling I get only when I am physically at or in a given locality. It’s that sense of “there” and it feels like a real and definable place. However, a sense of place is hard to define because it is primarily a feeling, and because it is made up of so many things. It ranges from the shape and style of the local church steeple to the way the light comes over the eastern hills on a January morning. But generally, those “things” that define a place fall into three categories: First: the geography: the place itself. Second, the way human beings have lived on the landscape and the way they live now. And third, the intangibles, the myths, stories, names of a place, and so on — all of which help create the “feeling” a place has.
As the real, ordinary, everyday life of a region begins to be lost, so does its unique sense of place. That’s why every single genuine expression of place is important. In all this, I’m not saying that things should never change. Change is inevitable, and can be good. However, just as commerce is necessary to help keep a place vigorous and alive, a misguided commerce can degrade a place and destroy its meaning.
Historic preservation is being mindful of our history and architecture, but also explores the distinct elements that create places that people love, that inspire, heal and delight. Joni Mitchell’s poignant lyrics speak about regretting actions when you’re not in tune with a community’s “sense of place”.
Doesn’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone.
They paved paradise,
And put up a parking lot.