ESLARP East St. Louis Action Research Project
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


LA 437/465 Fall 1995, Background Research Reports

Sense of Place and Identity

Yan Xu

Definition of "Sense of Place"

Sense of place is one of many characteristics which displayed by people congruent with local identity.

A sense of place is a sense of the beauty and the wealth of phenomena that comprise a particular place.

Sense of place is a factor that makes an environment psychologically comfortable. Three variables of sense of place are:

Sense of place is defining oneself in terms of a given piece of land. Landscape acts as teacher in shaping our perceptions of place. Analysis suggests that four major components contribute to a sense of place. These emotional and spiritual bonds to the land are:

The Nature of "Sense of Place"

Specific qualities of landscape infused a site with a sense of place for people. Past experience heavily influenced relationship between people and place, as places were sensed as a combination of setting, landscape, ritual, and routine and in the context of other places.

Each meaning structure of people, space, and environment contributes a particular set of qualities to genius loci.

The wholistic perspective of "topophilia" described by Y. Tuan (1974) states that "topophilia" is the relations, perceptions, attitudes, values, and world view that affectively bond people and place. Analyzing the content of people's remembrances for significant and recurring themes about space and place yields insights into fundamental life themes of sense of place, environmental mastery, privacy and autonomy.

An understanding of sense of place for which places are not merely objects, but objects for subjects, is needed. The sense of place can most usefully be conceptualized in terms of the structure of feeling.

Collective identity and sense of place is one of the primary social functions of residential differentiation for most people in modern societies.

Sense of place helps to protect the region's cultural heritage and promote cultural awareness and strong kinship ties.

The ancient Platonic approach to memory is focused on recollective experience. Recollection promotes access to transpersonal memorial and involves a turning inward, a withdrawal of attachments to the external world, and a gathering-in or coming to presence of the self. These recollective experiences may underlie the sense of place, boundaries, personal identity, and human autonomy.

Access and territory are aspects of the mental image of space. According to Kevin Lynch, a region can be evaluated by finding out how clearly its territories are marked, whether the transitions are adequate, how finely the space is divided, whether the desired range of behavior is provided for, whether all social groups have territories of their own, and how well users understand and agree on the meanings and boundaries of those territories. More importantly, the identification of places, as well as their organization into mental structures, not only allows people to function effectively but is also a source of emotional security, pleasure and understanding. We take delight in physically distinctive, recognizable locales and attach our feelings and meanings to them. Place character is often recalled with affection; its lack is a frequent subject of popular complaint. People are pleased to "know" a great city, or to understand its history. Indeed, a strong sense of place supports our sense of personal identity. For that reason, familiar features of a landscape are often fiercely defended.

Implication for Designers and Planners

Planning should involve sense of place in three meanings:

The accomplishment of these aims requires not only research, but improved means of involving the local public in planning.

Community involvement in planning and design phases of community revitalization led to recognition of the town's "sacred structure"--highly valued places essential to social processes, lifestyle, and sense of place. Identification and preservation of these places allowed community development without negative quality-of-life effects.

The entrance image of a town held by people contributes to sense of place. We should make every effort to maintain visual environments in harmony with the town's defined character during ongoing community development.

Studies on people's attachment to place suggest that there are grounds for looking to the physical setting, especially the natural environment available to residents and access to other resources.

Researcher redefines the contemporary crisis characterized most often as "environmental" and suggests an alternative conception of environmental ethics. The crisis is best defined as the erosion of local culture and that our response must involve a recovery of a sense of place.

Planning practitioners need to identify new human settlement patterns that recognize the need for a sense of place as the economic functions of the city fade.

The electronic media are blurring differences between places in terms of social practice. This view ignores crucial social and political difference between localities, which are part of the common sense of these places, and which are reproduced as part of everyday life.

Sense of place is one of the deep-ecology principles that the ideal outdoor experiential program should include.

Education fosters a child's sense of place which enhances children's aesthetic experience of the environment.

A research on adult's memories of childhood's special places concludes that special places are sought out during middle childhood when the roots of the adult notion of a sense of place are established.

TV and other electronic media redifine the informational characteristics of "home" and affect the child's sense of place in the family and society.

Environmental education program is successful in stimulating the children's creativity and sensitivity to nature and can give children a sense of place in the natural world.

Local symbols reflect and enhance sense of place. This knowledge may be used to maintain and enhance place identity.

Forces in industrial societies have caused modern humans to lose their sense of place in the natural order. A cultural conscience is necessary if people hope to survive.

In a place rich in cultural and environmental diversity, residents convey their sense of place through myriad cultural expressions, which planners can factor into their land-use decisions.

Kevin Lynch points out that for many people, the region, or a large sector of it, is their true life space. At the local scale, we need to know how well persons can define, and joyfully identify themselves with, the places in their home range: the home itself, the workplace, and the recreation ground.

Thinking of the sense of place and time, Kevin Lynch suggests designers and planners to develop norms for



Document author(s) : Yan Xu
HTML by : Yan Xu
Last modified: 12 December, 1995


LA 437/465 Fall 1995, Background Research Reports

East St. Louis Action Research Project
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