file photo by Boyd Loving
an article worth reading and so relevant to what Ridgewood is going through right now..
PUBLISHED BY LESLIE WRIGHT ON DECEMBER 22, 2015
At this time of year, when we gather with loved ones, often returning to, or remembering, the places we hold dear, the reflections of Orton Family Foundation Trustee Ed McMahon on the importance of place seem especially apropos. Ed is senior resident fellow at Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.
We live in a world of rapid change: immigration, new technologies, global trade, instantaneous communication, changing consumer tastes, rapid movement of people, ideas, and goods, etc. However, if I have learned anything over 25 years in the community planning arena, it is this: change is inevitable, but the destruction of community character and identity is not. Progress does not demand degraded surroundings. Communities can grow without destroying the things people love.
Place is more than just a location or a spot on a map. A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics—visual, cultural, social and environmental—that provides meaning to a location. Sense of place is what makes one location (e.g. your hometown) different from another location (e.g. my hometown), but sense of place is also that which makes our physical surroundings valuable and worth caring about.
Land use planners spend too much time focusing on numbers—the number of units per acre, the number of cars per hour, the number of floors per building—and not enough time on the values, customs, characteristics, and quirks that make a place worth caring about. Unfortunately, many American communities are suffering the social, economic, and environmental consequences of being places that simply aren’t worth caring about. The more one place (one location) comes to be just like every other place, the less reason there is to visit or invest. Just take tourism, for example: the more a community comes to look like every other community, the less reason there is to visit. On the other hand, the more a community does to enhance its distinctive identity, whether that is natural, cultural, or architectural, the more reasons there are to visit. Why? Because tourism is about visiting places that are different, unusual, or unique; if one place was just like everyplace else, there would be no reason to go anyplace.
Similarly, when it comes to 21st century economic development, a key concept is “community differentiation.” If you can’t differentiate your community from any other community, you have no competitive advantage. Capital is footloose in a global economy. Natural resources, highway access, locations along a river or rail line have all become less important. Richard Florida, a leading economic development authority and author of The Creative Class, has said, “How people think of a place is less tangible, but more important than just about anything else.”