On Places Loving People


Creative placemakers often talk about the importance and value of people loving their place. How people can benefit from finding meaning in the location that they live. How when people engage with the community, local businesses, arts and recreation, they feel more attached, leading to more fulfilled lives.

This is all true. And great. And it holds incredible meaning.

However, I want to hit pause on that perspective and think about the other side of things for a moment. This perspective is one that our city managers, planners, designers and politicians hopefully are constantly checking in with. It’s a bit more big picture, but I think it’s very helpful to think like this as a community member as well.

We talk so much about people loving their places, but what can be said about places loving their people?

This is going to sound like an odd concept. But what about places can show love and care and comfort and passion for its people?

The first question that comes to my mind is “Are our places built physically (or welcoming) for people?”

Depending on where you are, you might say no, not at all. This could be because you live in a city built for cars or for industry. Or, there might not be grocery stores for miles around. If there are no food stores, how are we supposed to support people living in these spaces?

The second question that comes to my mind is “Are our places built emotionally (or having value) for people?” This includes all people. From a community developer or designers mind, the question might look more like, “Who are we building this community for?” This question is heavy. In light of all the injustices in the world, are we cultivating places that love our people? Or, are we building places to only love our white people, our cisgender people, our educated people, or our able-bodied people?

Something that we are still working through at Motley, is what happens when your place doesn’t love you back? What happens when you are stuck in a community, due to family ties, lack of resources or a slew of other reasons and your place is not only not a place you want to attach to, but also is active in hurting or keeping you from a fulfilled life?

I think about a mayor I sat down with a year ago. Their community had a two million dollar need to repair just their water system infrastructure. Surrounding communities were sucking the good things out and taking and claiming them as their own. There was a business community on the very edge of the town, but it served a higher socioeconomic community who all lived in the towns adjacent.

What happens then? When your place leaves you disappointed and discouraged? So very not full of love, support, representation, and the things we need as human beings?

I wish this was one of our peppy blog posts, one that leaves you excited about community development, public art and good people in good places. But we think it’s important to begin thinking about the health of your relationship with places.

Sometimes places aren’t good for people, and sometimes people aren’t good for places. We invite you to explore what this means in your own personal context. What is your relationship with your place? How does the place where you live affect you, both physically and emotionally? And, if you have a great relationship where you live, do others as well? Because the health of the community depends on your neighbors’ place attachment, not just your own.