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Place and belonging

Explore why a sense of place important in creating belonging.
A child and adult walking through a community garden
© RMIT Europe, EIT Community and New European Bauhaus

Places are more than just locations on a map. It is human attachment and stories linked to places that make them unique.

A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics – visual, cultural, social, and environmental that provides meaning to a location. A sense of place is what makes a place unique and also what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about.

Why is a sense of place important?

A sense of place:

  • can help people connect with their surroundings
  • can help people establish knowledge of and appreciation for the location
  • nurtures the development of empathy for the place and a feeling of belonging, and leads to greater stewardship.

Belonging through a sense of place is exemplified in this conversation with Dr Alana Brekelmens from the University of Queensland, talking about indigenous Australia as an example of different ways people come to share and belong in a place.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Space as an ever evolving experience

A sense of place is not a static concept. It evolves and changes over time, such as the social values of the communities who interact with the respective places do. Due to the ever-changing nature of the concept of sense of place, it is important to consider past, present and future social values when considering place.

Moreover, in order to support the development of a sense of place, it is important to gain an understanding of the communities that are to use the area, and to consider their ideas and needs when planning and designing for place.

In his article Place, Tim Cresswell offers the following problem statement:

The humanistic conception of place, which has been the predominant understanding of place since the 1970s, is simply too fixed, too rooted in the distant past. As a consequence of these notions of fixity, boundedness, and rootedness, place too often becomes the locus of exclusionary practices. People connect a place with a particular identity and proceed to defend it against the threatening outside with its different identities.

Whatever facets of belonging we consider, in order to build healthy, inclusive, accessible cities we need to use an intersectional lens and be strategic in our design practices to address structural inequalities in building for the future.

© RMIT Europe, EIT Community and New European Bauhaus
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