Why places, rather than just spaces, are so important

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Do you know the feeling when you read something that just lifts your thinking to a different level? Even more, if it helps you to think about how to link two topics you know are somehow related, but you haven’t quite managed to make that link?

Yes? So do I!

So you can imagine how I have felt reading a book called ‘Off the Map‘ by Alastair Bonnett (which has the engaging subtitle ‘Lost spaces, invisible cities, forgotten islands, feral places and what they tell us about the world’. Got to love something referring to feral places and invisible cities!)

I have been keen to write on two topics – understanding myself and others better, and the importance of places and spaces to how we experience life. But I’ve never really worked out how to make the link. This book, along with some others I’ve been reading lately, pointed part of the way.

In a really engaging, non technical way, it drew me into topics such as:

  • The challenges of creating or changing boundaries or borders (which are really arbitrary  lines on maps, or as decided by acts of governments, but don’t always consider the impacts to those who live there).
  • Those places which are essentially ‘non man’s land’, due to war, being left overs (from subdivisions, as a result of major traffic projects, etc – but how, in the case of the larger areas, they still comprise many people’s homes.
  • Places which come and go due to the effects of drought or floods, or are impermanent for other reasons (such as floating villages).
  • Cities that have been written off, due to contamination or the like (I knew of Chernobyl, but hadn’t realised there is an asbestos town in Western Australia called Wittenoom in the same category. From a population of around 30,000 during the peak of the asbestos boom,  five residents apparently remain, stubbornly refusing government’s requirements that they move).

In all of these cases, plus the others in the book, there are people who are affected, there is wildlife, there is an economy which, in many cases, continues despite the fiddling by governments and bureaucrats. Place is personal – not abstract.

In many ways, the way we manage our land, and treat those (human, animal or vegetable) who have connections or are reliant on it, has parallels to the way we manage or treat others in different contexts, and the respect we show ourselves.

To quote from the book:

Place is a … fundamental aspect of what it is to be human. We are a place-making and place-loving species. In ancient and medieval thought place was often centre stage; the ground and context for everything else’.

In my view, place provides connection, it allows us to orient ourselves, it allows us to make sense of where we are relative to others. It has a character, a presence, almost a personality.

By contrast, space (not outer space, but just space here in earth), was seen by many who influences the forms of the cities, towns, villages and all between from sometime in the first half of the twentieth century.

 

As Bonnett notes:

Space … evokes mobility and the absence of restrictions; it promises empty landscapes filled with promise. When confronted with the filled-in busyness and oddity of place the reaction of modern societies has been to straighten and rationalise, to priorities connections and erase obstacles, to overcome place with space.’

What’s the result?  ‘… indifference to the specialness of place‘.

We all live with the results … ‘a widespread feeling that the replacement of unique and distinct places by generic blandscapes is severing us from something important.’

As well as sparking within many of us a desire to explore places that are ‘different’, or to make over those suburbs and streets where we do live, I suspect, and hope to explore, some other implications.

 

I suspect this ‘blandscape’ (a new word to me, that I quite like), contributes to the following:

  • Why many people react with a greater sense of protection and anger than they would have twenty to thirty years ago when those areas around us, which we relied on to provide our surrounding identity are proposed to be changed. At least, that might provide one reason for the uprising in ‘outrage’ in the development space (along with, of course, the increased circulation of information and misinformation via social media channels).
  • I also suspect that, while probably it’s not the worse aspect, the selection of Manus Island, with very little to recommend itself in terms of ‘place’, contributes to the suffering that refugees face. And that this is intentional. And that we are provided very little in terms of seeing this locations for ourselves, because we would be appalled by them
  • Finally, I also suspect it is a major aspect to why it is so hard for those who are homeless and without work to get out of that situation – without a place (not a ‘space’, which could change day by day and which they cannot call their own).

 

So this has given me a lot to think about – maybe a journey along another path for this blog.

I’d love to know what you think – what do you think about

 


*Note – to remove any possible confusion (unlikely, unless you are from the Shire of Bland) the Shire of Bland is not ‘Blandsville’. It is probably a very exciting and vibrant place, for all I know. But it does have an appropriate name (plus I hope they did take up the offer to become a sister city with Boring in the USA and Dull in Scotland. That would be nice. And interesting. And definitely not bland. Yes.)

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3 thoughts on “Why places, rather than just spaces, are so important

  1. This is very interesting. The quote about space wanting to overcome space get my attention. I’m an architecture student, so I see space and place as related. They coexist to evoke something within us all. As people, we all live in a place. Whether we have a home or not, we are all connected. Place would be nothing but a name without space. Nobody wants to go to New York simply because it is a city. It is how the city works, how the spaces of the city relate to one another. Nobody wants to go to a sports stadium when the space is not filled with roaring fans and the atmosphere it creates. Space is just as, If not more important than place, because it creates place.

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    1. Yes – I guess they are interrelated – space without the personality of place though is a sad location to be in. (I suspect too, tat we are flipping the terms between us, and we actually agree with each other 🙂 )

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