The question ‘Who on earth do you think you are?‘ might sound like a strange one for this series on places. What does ‘Who I am’ have to do with why places matter? Well, luckily I’m here to tell you! I think the two questions are very much related. In particular, I think that without considering who we are, we can’t really understand why we are more concerned and interested in some places compared with others.
Places matter in their own right, that’s true. But it’s the connection between places and people that central to the way places are managed. Because it’s when these places matter – to me, or to them, or to us – that change happens*.
Think about it:
- I am not particularly concerned about new buildings on the other side of Melbourne – but I am interested (sometimes supportive, sometimes not, sometimes just curious) about what is happening in my street. I am someone who lives in a particular part of eastern Melbourne – that’s one part of who I am. And so I might make changes to my own home, I might oppose a development application that is ‘out of character’ (whatever that means), or support improvements being made to a public facility. Because this area matters to me.
- I take an interest in park developments close by (for the same reason), but also new sports centres and bigger regional parks – because I am a parent of primary aged kids. Another part of who I am.
- I also notice, occasionally participate in, and sometimes sign forms seeking revegetation along the foreshore – because I visit the Mornington Peninsula often, and I have a lifetime of memories. This past environment, which I am keen to see restored, is part of my heritage, and my memories.
- I am supportive of public transport improvements, especially on my train line, because my husband works in the city and that’s his main mode of transport. A wife is another aspect of who I am.
- I notice and write to the relevant authorities to seek better crossing measures, more even paved surfaces in shopping strips and alternatives to stairs – because I know how difficult inaccessible areas are for my grandmother. Yes, I am (still) a granddaughter.
- I support measures to make housing more affordable – partly because I am an urban planner who has worked on this policy issue and know the current problems, partly because I am a parent (my kids will need their own housing some stage in the future), and hopefully because I am a compassionate person that cares for others. Hopefully this compassion extends to other issues – ideally (but in reality, not always).
Do you see what I mean? The dot points above comprise a five minute quick list, and I could easily add to it. When we stop and think, the way the environment around us is organised does matter to us.
However, even though it does impact us, I don’t think we’re always conscious of how, because that requires some reflecting on who we are and how that awareness impacts how we relate to the landscape around us.
For instance, using me as an example again – and an everyday occurrence which is driving and traffic. So often, I am stuck in traffic, cursing the drivers in front for being too slow (it’s pretty much always someone else’s fault, I find!) I often forget that, as a driver myself, I am part of the problem. Plus, I have alternatives. I am putting my desire for comfort, direct access to pick up kids, and my ongoing lateness problem (part of my personality!) above my awareness that I COULD, if I was more organised, choose public transport more often. But I don’t. And so – even though intellectually I would rather see investment in public transport, and know road improvements are just short term fixes, I don’t take as much of a stand on this as I should. Because I’d be giving up part of who I am.
Equally, we don’t always see the relevance of a strategy being developed – because we cannot see the connection to open space planning (for instance), and our daily lives. Until that open space is no longer available, or not maintained, because no one spoke up for its importance – to them.
It’s a challenge to all of us, I think, to see who we really are. The whole of who we are. And the whole of who ‘they’ are – the other people who might be impacted as well by changes.
It’s a challenge to bureaucrats (including planners), and state authorities, who often categorise a group of people as ‘a community’, generally on (sometimes arbitrary) locational boundaries. That is so often way too simplistic (especially if the boundaries don’t reflect the identify of those within the group.*)
We are more than one thing. We belong to more that one group. And multiple places – when we really think about it- matter to us.
How about you? Do you see yourself as part of a range of (tight or loosely formed) groups, with some connection to places? I’d love to know what you think!
* acknowledging that, sometimes the best thing for some places is to be forgotten. Neglect can be great, in some cases, for restoration or preservation!
* Next topic – boundaries / maps and making sense of the world around us 🙂