Sense of Place is a concept that Community Developers use to describe how a resident or neighbor experiences their space. When we talk about sense of place, it’s usually to capture a resident’s relationship with their neighborhood.
Environment is a powerful factor in creating a neighborhood’s sense of place. The streets you walk on, the spaces you enter, and the people you encounter all contribute to the experience of what it’s like to BE in a neighborhood, and how you think/feel about that neighborhood. Your emotions and thoughts walking through a place can also tell developers how well the space they create is fitting for you and others.
Why it matters: Sense of place shapes neighbor experience and connection to neighborhood.
You can likely describe every neighborhood or place you’ve entered yourself. The local park makes you feel alive and refreshed. You feel a puff of familiarity and warmth when you see the same people there week after week. You feel a sense of pride walking your kids to school in the shadow of your alma mater. Neighborhoods are like people – they have personalities, whether quirky, regal, anxiety-inducing, or amusing. How you describe your neighborhood is a key window into how it’s impacting quality of life in the community.
Other physical elements can also give your neighborhood personality. Art, trees, local businesses, and public parks create an atmosphere. How residents feel in a place continues to shape their experiences. The ability to gather on street corners, at coffee shops, or parks can all influence how engaged neighbors are with each other and the area.
As a Developer, you can construct a positive narrative for people’s stories in their community.
For Developers: Architecture Itself can play a role in sense of place.
Architecture plays an important role in Sense of Place. A home is an intimate setting to develop it. How you construct and give character to a home is what makes it different from a house. Consider exteriors in your neighborhood. A neighborhood where every facade is unique feels very different than one where homes look more uniform. Even the color of houses can communicate a lot about who is living there, and who matters in a place.
These markers of characters extend to the architecture of public spaces, even landscaping.
Sense of Place also extends beyond the home. Local and public areas are an extension of their environment. Landscaping such as native plants, values of sustainability, and accessibility create interaction. Benches, recycling measures, or aesthetic landscaping allow people to “stop and smell the roses.” Schools for children and crosswalks are equally important. Fostering education and making people reachable to one another brings communities together.
If part of your development is building, think about how you can boost a cohesive, positive Sense of Place. Everyone deserves the opportunity to feel as though they belong.
Next time you walk through a neighborhood, ask yourself:
Are these spaces interactive?
Do they contribute to the well-being of the community? And most importantly, how do they feel?
Where people can go to shape what they connect over. For example – playgrounds can be a place that connects families and young kids.
How does this place tell a story about its own history? Some neighborhoods have historical markers, monuments to important figures, or murals that talk about the neighborhood’s legacy.
By being thoughtful in your planning and building in a neighborhood, you can dramatically impact the way it feels to lie there. You can help make a place feel like a unique home. Use this awareness to impact your communities one step (or construction) at a time.