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Importance of Place in Human Life

The concept of place and the importance of place in human life and experience.

A place is only as good as the people in it.”
― Pittacus Lore, I Am Number Four 1

From a culturally geographical point of view, therefore, places come by their meanings and identities as a result of the complex intersections of culture and context that occur within that specific location. Cultural geography explores place – these confluences of culture and context – to help us to know and act better in the world around us.” Jon Anderson – understanding cultural geography 2

An individual is not too distinct from his place. He is his place.”  - Gabriel Marcel 3

We use the word place on a daily basis, but have you ever wondered what a place actually is?  Or what makes a place special to us?  What gives a place its aura?

This unit is all about the notion of places and how they change across the globe and how they change over time.  Place is a very important concept in Geography, it is one of the cornerstones of it as a subject.  Place underpins many of the other topics we cover in Advanced level geography, including contemporary urban environments, how the carbon or water cycles impact on places, or even how places in deserts cope with the physical conditions found there.  This unit will certainly challenge you to look at your local surroundings in a different way.
Big Geographical questions to consider through this unit;
1. What is a place?
2. What turns a space into a place?
3. What factors, human and physical, influence the character of places?
4. What different categories of place exist?
5. How can different people perceive places in different ways?
6. How is your Local place different from places that are geographically far away (geographically distant)?
7. How is your local place different from places that economically, socially and culturally distant?
8. How do agencies try to manipulate our ideas and thoughts about place?
9. What impact have globalizing forces had upon places?
10. How does pace impact upon the quality of life of people living there?
11. How are places linked together via their relationships and connections?
12. Why do places change over time?
13. How can we use qualitative and quantitative sources to investigate place?

Spaces, Places and Sense of Place as CONCEPTS

At its most basic interpretation a “place” is simply a definite location on a map or a description of the human and physical characteristics of a particular location. In this context these are just spaces – somewhere that is unknown, unfamiliar, like looking at tourist board photos or images on the Internet.

However, this does not fully define place or explain why people attach so much meaning to places.  Perhaps place can be defined as a location with meaning.  The first place you may consider is your own home.  This is at a basic level is a set of walls with subdivided rooms, without the people in it, a house would be a building and that is all.  However, homes carry emotional meanings for people, they are places people meet, gather, have friends’ round, interact with others, decorate and put part of their personalities into.  Homes are where we make memories, be they positive or negative, and for this reason they become important places for people.

When emotional attachment occurs between people and places, we say that people have a Sense of Place – this is the subjective and emotional attachment people have to places.  This is based upon people’s experiences, knowledge and connections with a place.

Consider a place that is special to you, what factors have contributed to your sense of that place?

Location, Locale and Sense of Place
The location of a place is simply where a place is, often related to by coordinates on a map.  The locale of a place takes into account where something happens or is set, or that has particular events associated with it.4 Locale also takes into account the impact people have on a location. 

Middlesbrough – example of location, locale and sense of place

Location Locale Middlebrough
A place that is close to me is Middlesbrough, it is where I grew up and I have lots of family and friends in the town.  Its location is on a flood plain on the banks of the river Tees in the North East of England.  As a locale, the town was famed for its Industry and was dubbed the “Infant Hercules” by parliamentarian Gladstone in 1862 and is now trying to become a post-industrial city. 

My sense of place is strong for the town, none more so than for my affection for the town’s football club.  These experiences with family in the team’s stadium create a strong sense of place, identity and community for me personally, from the joys of success and even the disappointing experiences (of which there have been many!).

There are many places like Middlesbrough which have their own unique identity and people form their own sense of these places. 

Ground Zero
For example, Ground Zero- the site of the former World Trade Centre in New York and a memorial to the victims of a terrorist attack, has its own sense of place.  The two towers that made up the World Trade Centre were destroyed when terrorists took control of passenger planes and flew them into the buildings. The memorial, Ground Zero, has its own sense of place and its own emotional attachment for many people.  Ground Zero is also an example of a place with “Tourist Gaze”, explained by sociologist John Urry5 as “the set of expectations that tourists place on local populations when they participate in heritage tourism, in the search for having an "authentic" experience. In response to tourist expectations and often cultural and racial stereotypes, local populations reflect back the "gaze" of the expectations of tourists in order to benefit financially”.

Ground zero

Ground Zero in New York after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks
NOAA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 6

Ground Zero memorial

Ground Zero memorial in 2012 by Cadiomals [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons 7

NEXT TOPIC - The Concept of Place


SOURCES

1 – Good Reads - Place quotes – accessed from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/places

2 - Jon Anderson (2015) - Understanding Cultural Geography: Places and traces –Routledge, 2015. Page 5. Accessed from http://www.spatialmanifesto.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/UCG1.pdf

3 – Map is art (2018) – accessed from https://mapisart.com/blogs/blog/18726207-quotes-about-the-sense-of-place

4 – Cambridge Dictionary (2019) – accessed from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/locale

5 - Urry, John. (2002). The Tourist Gaze. 2nd ed.(1st ed. 1990). London: Sage. Accessed from http://www.vidabajc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/EncyclOfConsumerCulture_The-Tourist-Gaze_Vida-Bajc.pdf

6 – NOAA , Image source https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aerial_photo_of_WTC_groundzero.jpg

7 - Cadiomals [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Posted 22nd May 2020 by Rob Gamesby

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