Lately we’ve talked a lot about looking at and seeing your town/community/city in more detail than usual, and identifying what you like and possibilities for improvement. See these posts and discussions for starters: What’s Your Community Wish?; Small, Public Spaces: Parklets; Street Observations: 10 Questions; On Your Streets: Curbs.
So, what do trash cans and recycling bins have to do with any of this? Well, have you ever found yourself walking around and wanting to throw out or recycle something? You don’t really notice the existence of or lack of such receptacles until you need one, right? Maybe it’s like looking for a bench. You don’t think about it until you really want to sit somewhere.
Do trash and recycling receptacles matter in our built environment, specifically our historic downtowns? Frankly, yes. For one thing, it keeps the environment clean. And secondly, it makes for a more pleasant experience, because our streets and parks feel whole. Meaning, if you have everything you need, you’ll likely to appreciate the place and your time there.
Yet, many of our towns and villages struggle with the issue of trash and recycling receptacles because it can be expensive and labor intensive. And then where do you put them? As mentioned previously, many of our towns are not blessed with wide sidewalks and there is not room for such street furnishings, especially if you are looking for trash and recycling. But, there is no way around this. Trash and recycling bins are important to a healthy community.
Receptacles come in many shapes, sizes and styles, from cast iron boxes like the one below to decorative barrels to open barrels on a post to concrete and hard top plastic. We’ve all seen these, I’m sure. But have you ever thought about them?
So the next time you are out and about, take note of your streets. Are there trash and/or recycling receptacles? Of what style and material? (Meaning, are they barrels, metal, open cans, etc.?) Are there enough? Are your streets clean? Are they necessary where you live?
Understanding such a seemingly minute aspect of our built environment allows us, preservationists and beyond, to shape our communities for the better. A well-cared for community is one that people will love, and one that is worthy of people’s pride. And that makes for a better sense of place. Make sense? Can you think of other “minute” details that can make a big impact where you live and visit?
It’s summertime (just about) and the weather beckons us to appreciate our downtowns and the surrounding landscapes, whether you prefer strolling in the commercial district, spending the day in a park or taking an adventure. What is your favorite summertime activity? How do you show your love for your community?
Part of loving your community means considering where it is going. What would you like to change about where you live, or what would you like to add? Maybe it’s something as simple as benches in the park. Or maybe you’d like to see more businesses in town. Perhaps a historic building in town needs some help. Get out, enjoy the sunshine and daydream about your “ideal” place to live. You never know, you could be thinking the same thing as many others. Don’t be afraid to bring up your idea.
This past weekend, May 19-20, was the grand opening celebration for the Lake Champlain Bridge in Chimney Point, VT and Crown Point, NY. The new bridge opened in November 2011, but the community celebration was planned for May. Warm, sunny skies graced the entire weekend, welcoming visitors from near and far. Events took place in Vermont and New York and ranged from performance shows to exhibits to a parade, petting zoo, car show, road race, historic site tours and much more. After years of the Lake Champlain Bridge community dealing with bridge closure, demolition, route detours, bridge construction, ferry rides, etc., it was gratifying to see everyone enjoying the new bridge and celebrating the community.
It was an absolutely beautiful weekend! The next time your cruising through the Champlain Valley, be sure to head over to Chimney Point and Crown Point for a good look at the bridge!
Yesterday’s image, “You Can’t Buy Happiness, But You Can Buy Local and that’s Kind of the Same Thing,” was well liked, so I thought you might like additional graphics. Who doesn’t love a good design, right? These “Buy Local” advertisements have probably been floating around the internet for a while, but some are so creative and fu that they warrant sharing with as many people as possible. Does your town or city have a similar poster or logo?
Clearly, this could go on forever. Point being, the next time you are looking for some local shopping inspiration, take a look at these images. Share them (with proper credit to their original sites, of course) and get out to support those local businesses in whatever way you can. Have an image to share? Send it along. Enjoy!
The previous sense of place posts have discussed how to define and how to measure sense of place, as a concept and as something more tangible. Sense of place is an empirical concept, but one that is understandable and applicable by those who study communities and the combined cultural and built environment.
The point of studying sense of place through casual discussion or scholarly analysis is to improve sense of place, and consequently improving quality of life. What makes one place better than another? And what does better mean? Each community or group of people is going to have different definitions for what sense of place means. I think that is one of the most important ideas to remember; sense of place and quality of life is not a standard one-size-fit-all idea. Some communities may want to focus on one aspect over another, whether economic health, transportation, schools, community centers, cultural events or something else.
Once sense of place is defined and measured for each community, how can it be improved? What makes a better sense of place?
No matter the goal, achieving it will require the combined effort of the municipality, local organizations and community members, including many volunteer hours (as that seems to be how much is accomplished). An important step will be for the community to identify what it needs and what it wants, and to rank its priorities. Projects can occur simultaneously, but knowing which is a higher priority can focus efforts.
That probably sounds vague, but it is the simple process of identifying what you want and outlining how to achieve it.
For example, if a town lacks a center, then zoning and development patterns are possibly the problem. In that case, getting the municipality to understand that the town zoning needs to be amended will be important. If a community lacks organized festivals or cultural events, then a non-profit organization or a group of concerned community members may be up for the challenge. If a community wants local businesses, then it must develop a plan to attract business owners. Pop-up businesses are a great way to kickstart enthusiasm and economic development in a community. Creating a sense of place can develop into a very in-depth topic, pulling in marketing and “branding” of a town.
Of course, these businesses and events need somewhere to occur. This is an excellent opportunity for rehabilitating or restoring historic buildings (or even old buildings) and cleaning up community parks and green space. Improving sense of place can happen one event at a time, one building at a time. Resources such as Project for Public Spaces and the National Complete Streets Coalition offer guidelines for creating healthy communities. Each town or community will interpret the information differently.
The most important element of improving sense of place is people; the community needs concerned, dedicated residents who want to be proud of where they live.
What do you think? How can you improve sense of place? Do you have any concrete solutions?
Next up (next week) for the sense of place series: inferences and assumptions about places you’ve never been. Anything else you’d like to discuss?
Have you noticed the street curbing (or curbs) lately? What is the material? Concrete, granite, marble, stone, or none at all?
I’ve pondered sidewalks before, but not really the curb material. Why bother to notice, you ask? From a transportation perspective, it’s interesting, because curbing is something specified in sidewalk and road construction plans. Curbs exist to protect pedestrians from traffic and to channel runoff.
Curbs typically exist in neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, etc., as opposed to on stretches of highway and less dense areas of development. Their style, shape, construction methods, materials and age varies. Until living in Vermont, I never noticed granite curbing, which is popular (though not a rule) in recent sidewalk reconstruction throughout Vermont villages. Older curbs from the early 20th century are concrete. While home in New York recently, I noticed the curbs were either concrete or rough cut stone blocks with cement mortar. When living in North Carolina, I remember thinking it odd that in many neighborhoods, the lawn ran into the street without a curb, and many of the front yards were covered in (long leaf) pine straw in addition to grass. What is the reason for the difference?
I would guess climate factors into the decision, and availability of material. Vermont and New Hampshire are known for granite, and it is more durable for our harsh winters, road salts and other de-icing solutions and against plows. The climate in Southern Pines, NC was much milder compared to other places I’ve lived, and snow plows of any kind are rarely needed.
How about the height of the curbing? That factor depends on road speed and its correlation to pedestrian safety. Often, newer curbs will seem very tall (6-8 inches), whereas older curbs are very short. That is often a result of a different safety standards and/or how many layers of pavement have been applied over the years, thereby altering the height of the curb.
A lack of a curb also implies a less formal or a more rural development. I would infer that it is a less expensive method of road construction, since only road subbase and asphalt pavement is necessary, not curbs and sewer drain systems.
Curbs are a subtle element of the built environment and transportation system, but worth noticing because it could be an element that you never think of until it is different. Imagine how your town would look with different curbs, no curbs or the addition of curbs.
Take a look next time you are out and about. If your town has a different curb, send me a picture! And if you really want to know more about curbs and all related features, read this chapter from the Federal Highway Administration’s guide to Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access. Or read about curb ramps from FHWA.
Last week, the Sense of Place mini-series began by discussing how to define the concept “sense of place.” I wrote that asking questions relating to the five sense can help you to understand and define a place, and commenters added their own thoughts. It’s a topic open for scholarly and casual discussion, one that is gaining popularity and understanding. While preservation includes discussions of sense of place, the topic of sense of place could be its own dissertation. Therefore, I’m letting you know that I’m not an expert; I enjoy pondering the concept, learning about it and talking with you about sense of place. So let’s continue.
Beyond defining sense of place, how do you measure it? How do you classify this somewhat abstract concept? How do you know if a place needs a sense of place improvement?
First, ask yourself if you can define sense of place for your locale. It may seem obvious, but if you cannot identify this particular place, then it probably lacks a sense of place. Typically, I think of many suburban locations as lacking a sense of place. If you have driven along Long Island highways, particularly central Long Island, you probably know what I mean. Basically, the highways looks like Anywhere, USA filled with car dealerships and chain stores and restaurants, all with the same, standard plans. (This isn’t to say Long Island is the only place that looks like this; it is just what I am familiar with.) However, imagine my pleasant surprise when I came across Build a Better Burb, an organization dedicated to improving sense of place on Long Island through Main Street revitalization, regional planning and housing solutions. Finally!
While one community may have a stronger sense of place than another, I’d say that it isn’t something necessarily up for traditional comparison. The idea isn’t to give every place the same feeling and measure it by the exact same standards. Perhaps a good way to measure is by cultural/social feeling (mentioned by Karri). If a community hosts events, has people out and about in all forms of transit (depends on location) with daily interactions, features a variety of businesses and has a welcome vibe, then it must have a strong sense of place. Right?
We preservationists talk about local businesses over and over, but for good reason. An important measure of sense of place could be the ration of locally owned, independent businesses vs. chains of corporate America. Common sense will say that the more local businesses = a stronger sense of place.
Another measurement could be the overall happiness (though measuring happiness is another difficult subject) and level of involvement from community members and frequency of events. A town with residents who care and want to create a home will shine and be a welcoming place and appear as a nice place to live. And since individuals compose a town, when they are involved, they will shape the town and sense of place.
How to measure sense of place is a good question. It’s one to which I do not have an answer. For now, I’ll leave my opinion on this matter as: understanding how to define sense of place, allows you to recognize the strength of a place and to empirically measure sense of place. This paper from the University of Queensland, Australia suggests empirical studies, for example. But, as for the charts and graphs type of measurements, I don’t believe it’s that kind of concept.
And while these may be subjective measurements and opinions, perhaps sense of place is a concept best understood and measured subjectively, in order to maintain the individuality of places. Maybe a measurement is based on how in depth you can define the sense of place for the community. What do you think? What would you like to add to measuring sense of place?
Preservationists often talk about a community’s “sense of place” in relation to creating, identifying or enhancing that sense of place. To those of us in the preservation field and those of us who interact with communities, sense of place is an expression that we inherently understand and unanimously agree is important. Yet, perhaps it sounds like an abstract concept to others.
A mini-series (beginning today!) on Preservation in Pink will explore sense of place, beyond its casual mentions here and there. How can you define sense of place? How can it be measured? How can it be improved? In this first post, let’s discuss how to define and understand sense of place.
What comes to mind when you hear “sense of place” in conversation? Without any further meaning it sounds like knowing where you are located – which town, city, state, country. But, sense of place isn’t really about directions. Aside from knowing your point on a map, knowing your location can be attributed to identifying landmarks – built and natural.
Alright, you know your location on a map, you can see familiar landmarks; but, what more is there to sense of place?
A good quote about sense of place, found via the Northwest Earth Institute is from Wendell Berry, a well-known bioregionalist, is: “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know you who are.” If you know your location in all senses, you’ll understand its sense of place.
For simplicity’s sake, take the word “sense” literally and combined your five senses: sight, smell, hear, touch, taste. What do you see in a place (buildings, landscape)? What do you smell (agricultural, industry, nature)? What do you hear (cars, trains, river, ocean, wind)? What can you touch (street surface, building materials)? What do you taste (what are the local foods)?
Think about where you live or a particular place that you love. Can you answer those for your neighborhood, community or town? (A place does not have to be defined by town and city boundaries, remember.) Now consider the combination of those answers to the five senses and answer this: how do they make you feel about a place? What memories can you associate with those feelings (and senses)?
Sense of place is about identity and relationships: the identify of a place and the relationship that people have with it. In other words, how do people connect to a place?And how do they define that place, through what tangible (buildings, landscape) or intangible (smells, sounds, feelings) connections?
So, sense of place is subjective, but not necessarily abstract. Would you agree? What else would you add or like to know?
Do you have good resources to share? Let me know. For more on sense of place and relationships and other disciplines, read this research by Jennifer E. Cross at Colorado State University.
Our country is built on democracy. Every person has the opportunity to speak up, be heard and make a difference. It is difficult for one small group or a few select people to know what is best for a town or community if people do not take initiative. What defines quality of life is different for every community. Regardless of the definition, quality of life is vital for communities.
Attending a Vermont town meeting (March 6) was the perfect reinforcement for this belief.
Town meeting started with hundreds of people this year, crowded into the elementary school gymnasium. It was astonishing to see so many people there; I overheard many people saying it was the largest town meeting they’ve ever seen.
What happens at town meeting? In its simplest explanation, town meeting addresses the budget of the town. It’s not issues like mailboxes and flower pots. It is how the residents will spend their collective money for the year.
See the Citizen’s Guide for the typical scenarios and procedures. Basically, a moderator runs the meeting. Budget articles for discussion are addressed one at a time. An article must be moved, seconded and can then be amended by discussion. After the select board, any resident is able to stand up and make a motion. Meaning, you could stand up and say you think this organization should receive $750 rather than $500 in the budget and here’s why. After discussion, everyone will vote for or against the amendment. Voting at a floor meeting is done orally – aye or nay and the moderator determines which side has the majority. An article is then voted on with the amendment (or not, depending on the previous vote).
Some articles are small sums of money, such as $1000 allocation to a non-profit, whereas otherwise are much bigger such as construction of a new firehouse or police station. The non-budget issue that my town discussed at length was whether or not to move town meeting to a Monday night as opposed to Tuesday morning date. Fortunately, it is also possible to move that discussion is limited on topics. Sometimes, people want their voices heard and that’s great, but sometimes people start back tracking and saying the same thing, in only slightly different words. In situations like this, limiting discussion is appreciated.
People can make motions to vote by paper ballot for a particular issue, and a motion can be made to vote on whether or not to vote on an issue at this time. At my town meeting, chaos did seem to ensue when all hundreds of people had to write yes or no on a ballot and bring it to the ballot box at the front of the room. (This was to vote whether to table discussion or to vote that day.)
As silly as that may seem, it’s really not. The articles of the meeting address the actual town budget. The town budget can be amended right there on the floor. Anyone can walk up to microphone, say their motion and speak to it. Residents then vote to approve the amendment or not, before voting on the article. And changes did actually happen on the floor. This would never happen on a paper ballot; it could not.
The downside is that people can talk on and on, and sometimes budget items are not that exciting. You may not have a foundation for every article up for discussion. I wonder if people feel pressured to vote with the majority, differently than they would vote on paper ballots. Then again, if people feel strongly for something, they are likely to vote how they feel. Perhaps it balances out? Additionally, I imagine the moderator’s skill of understanding the vote by voice (aye or nay) is incredible.
Many people left the meeting after the first hour (of four hours) due to other commitments or a lack of interest in the articles. While these articles may seem minor, it was a shame that so many people deserted the meeting after the first two articles. After all, there is a budget beyond those items. So while the meeting did drag at the end, I could not bring myself to leave early. I figured it was one day a year, and it was only four hours. What kind of civil servant and interested community member would I be if I ducked out of the meeting? If town residents do not care enough to stay, then who will care?
So I survived year one of town meeting (hopefully of many to come). My first town meeting was very interesting; seemingly a tad bit antiquated at times, but also empowering. The best thing to take away is the feeling of Vermonters shaping Vermont and making decisions with their community members.