Meaningful places offer a vital counterbalance to the forces of globalization and sameness that are overtaking our world, and are an essential element in the search for solutions to current sustainability challenges. In Native to Nowhere, author Tim Beatley draws on extensive research and travel to communities across North America and Europe to offer a practical examination of the concepts of place and place-building in contemporary life. Tim Beatley reviews the many current challenges to place, considers trends and factors that have undermined place and place commitments, and discusses in detail a number of innovative ideas and compelling visions for strengthening place.
Native to Nowhere brings together a wide range of new ideas and insights about sustainability and community, and introduces readers to a host of innovative projects and initiatives. Native to Nowhere is a compelling source of information and ideas for anyone seeking to resist place homogenization and build upon the unique qualities of their local environment and community.
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About the Author
Timothy Beatley is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, where he has taught for over twenty-five years. His primary teaching and research interests are in environmental planning and policy, with special emphasis on coastal and natural hazards planning, environmental values and ethics, and biodiversity conservation. He has published extensively in these areas, including the following books: Ethical Land Use; Habitat Conservation Planning: Endangered Species and Urban Growth; Natural Hazard Mitigation; and An Introduction to Coastal Zone Management. In recent years much of his research and writing has been focused on the subject of sustainable communities, and creative strategies by which cities and towns can reduce their ecological footprints, while at the same time becoming more livable and equitable places. His books that explore these issues include Biophilic Cities, Resilient Cities, and Green Urbanism (Island Press).
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Native to Nowhere
Sustaining Home and Community in a Global Age
By Timothy Beatley
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 2004 Timothy Beatley
All rights reserved.
Sustaining Place in the Global Age
A couple sitting next to me at a Starbucks in Falls Church, Virginia, was admiring the music being piped in and asked the Starbucks employee behind the counter who the musician was. You might have thought they were asking for an explanation of Fermi's Paradox. The flustered young man behind the counter confessed that he did not know who it was and really had no easy way to find out because the music was mixed and programmed in Seattle and sent to Starbucks stores across the country.
Starbucks's need to so firmly control the musical ambiance of their stores is a small thing, to be sure, but a telling window into the many ways in which global companies influence the texture and quality of people's lives. Whether by intention or not, the cumulative cuts at our unique places, the places we call home, the local realm, are real and insidious. Starbucks stores seem to be on every corner of every major city.
There are, of course, many advantages and benefits of our global era. We have a wide range of products and goods from around the world. We enjoy fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural products in the dead of winter, and we owe many jobs and much income to global trade and commerce. There is much to be positive about, as proponents of globalization are quick to point out.
And, certainly, I like Starbucks coffee. When I'm on trips, even short distances from my home, I'm pleasantly relieved when I discover a Starbucks. I know what to expect.
But the proliferation of mind-numbing sameness is an alarming trend. As the march of globalization continues, it manifests across the continent in places that look and feel alike. In shopping malls that carry the same stores, and in commercial strips that have the same fast-food franchises, there is a stifling sense of sameness to the new suburban and exurban landscapes we inhabit. The mall of America replaces Main Street. Starbucks replaces the corner coffee shop. There is little sense of the historical background and unique histories of the places where we live, and even less real understanding of the ecological heritage and natural landscapes upon which we rely. The rise of an Internet culture of virtual places may, for many at least, represent a replacement for actual places.
That we need particular and unique places is a central tenet of this book. We need places that provide healthy living environments and also nourish the soul—distinctive places worthy of our loyalty and commitment, places where we feel at home, places that inspire and uplift and stimulate us and that provide social and environmental sustenance.
The growing uniformity and anonymity of contemporary settlement patterns begets an attitude that they are disposable and interchangeable. One is just like another. Without intimate contact with real places, there is little chance that the loss of environments and the practice of unsustainable patterns of consumption and resource exploitation will be reversed. Perhaps now more than ever, in the face of global economic and social forces, the march of sameness, and the reckless treatment of landscapes and environment, we need the solace and support of places. Now more than ever we need to revisit what it means to be native to where we live, to recommit to place.
The Value of Real Places
At the heart of this book is the belief that reconnecting to people and landscapes at the local level and having a better understanding of the built and natural surroundings in which we live will result in better, more enjoyable, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. Meaningful lives require unique and particular places.
Certainly, part of our current crisis of place is the crisis of community. We are clearly a social species, though that would be difficult to discern from the many forces and impulses driving us (literally) apart. We can experience emotionally rich and gratifying lives only through deep personal interactions with other human beings. The evidence of our need for others, of our need for close and direct personal contact, is considerable. We know, for instance, that individuals with more extensive social networks and friendship patterns are actually healthier, and that such networks and relationships are essential for surviving the buffeting waves of life (e.g., Trafford, 2000).
There is a compelling and growing literature that demonstrates the critical emotional value of friendships and social networks, which in turn translate into improvements in health. For example, Karen Weihs, a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, has shown the value of friendship networks in women diagnosed with breast cancer. In a seven-year study, she found that women with larger networks of friends were more likely to have survived the cancer (Weihs, 2001; see also Mann, 2001; Elias, 2001). Lisa Berkman, an epidemiologist from Yale, found similar results in looking at longevity for those who have suffered heart attacks. People with extensive social support networks lived much longer than those with little support (Berkman, 1995; see also Frasure-Smith et al., 2000). Having more extensive social networks has been associated with reduced deaths from accidents and suicide, with reducing the onset of dementia, and with slowing down the progression of diseases such as HIV (Kawachi et al., 1996; Leserman, 2001; Brummett et al., 2001).
Loneliness, then, is now understood as a major risk factor, and as an increasingly large number of both the young and the old find themselves living alone, the emotional and health-enhancing values of place are ever more essential. Genuine and strong places must now be expected to do much of the "heavy lifting" in building a healthy, happy society.
Places can facilitate social interaction, to be sure—through urban form that permits walking, an abundance of "third places" (other than work or home) for socializing, investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, inspirational architecture and interesting design; and through sponsoring or convening many public events, from parades to place celebrations—and as a result they are likely to bring about better health and enjoyment through greater levels of physical activity on the part of their inhabitants. Overly sedentary lifestyles and bad food choices have resulted in an "obesity epidemic" (Centers for Disease Control, 2002; Jackson, 2003). Large numbers of Americans (almost 70 percent) are simply not getting the requisite physical activity—a recommended thirty minutes or 10,000 steps per day—to keep them healthy and to stave off many types of illness and disease (Centers for Disease Control, 2002). The benefits of daily physical activity are also emotional and mental, as exercise generates endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and has positive effects on mood and outlook. A reinvigorated local realm has the potential to profoundly improve public health in this way, while making possible more enjoyable, meaningful lives.
Direct involvement in our communities and neighborhoods is another element in a meaningful, healthy life and will often yield tremendous enjoyment and personal satisfaction. Strong communities can do much to facilitate this participation and make it easy and enticing. Volunteering and other types of community involvement are not only essential to building a sense of commitment to place but also yield many personal benefits, deepen our lives, and give meaning to what we do (e.g., Miles et al., 1998). Participating in civic activities of various kinds builds place bonds and place commitments, strengthens local democracy, and is good for our health and emotional well-being (Victoria Population Health Survey, 2001).
Places that provide the spaces, reasons, and opportunities for people to come together, to share their passions, hopes, and troubles, will be healthier, stronger places and places where people trust and care about each other. And the more involved and engaged we are, the more likely we are to care about our communities and to be committed to working on their behalf in the future. It is a virtuous circle that real places understand and actively cultivate.
In one of the first national studies of social capital, the social networks and shared norms that serve to bind us together, prepared by the Saguaro Seminar at the Kennedy School at Harvard, some interesting conclusions were reached about positive relationships between community connectedness and personal happiness. Controlling for income and education levels, the study found that the extent of community social connectedness and trust were highly associated with the greater personal happiness reported by respondents (Sagara Seminar, undated). Being connected to others and to a broader community will (help to) make us happy.
Place helps overcome anonymity. Real places, real communities where people know each other and have deep connections to and understanding of each other, are in turn much more likely to be caring places. Homelessness, poverty, inadequate health care, to name a few of our more pressing contemporary challenges, are easy to ignore in lives lived in isolation, in cars and cul-de-sacs. We don't see these people, and we don't grasp the seriousness and reality of these problems; the people and issues are abstract and remote, and consequently we don't care about them. Real communities offer the great promise of nurturing an ethic of care and responsibility. It is more difficult to ignore community needs, individual and family suffering, when they are attached to recognizable names and faces.
Good and real places have the power to make us happy, or at least to lay the critical foundations for personal happiness, over the full course of our lives. There has been considerable research in recent years about what it takes to ensure health and happiness as we age, and again, not surprisingly, physical activity and mental and social engagement have been found to be critical. Even modest regular physical activity has tremendous health benefits, including prevention of stroke and osteoporosis. Hartman- Stein and Potkanowicz (2003) in their review of the research conclude that "regular physical activity in our daily lives is the greatest weapon we have against the on-set of age-related disease and disability." Considerable research, moreover, demonstrates that cognitive health and happiness require mental exercise as well as social participation and engagement. What some have called a "sense of embeddedness," or feeling a part of a community or social network, appears to extend longevity in older people (Greene, 2000). These studies suggest the central importance of strong neighborhoods and communities, and the benefits of volunteering and of participation and engagement in the social and political life of place.
Genuine communities challenge prevailing assumptions about happiness in the modern age. Much conventional thinking still seems to hold that material objects and material consumption holds the secret to personal happiness. "Bigger and more" and "faster and more convenient" are key descriptors for much of our current community design and planning: bigger cars, bigger homes, more and faster technological gadgets, longer distances and landscapes to travel through in our pursuit of the accoutrements of modern American life. Yet, perhaps most of us know the truth of the expression "money can't buy happiness," and a growing body of research confirms this. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concludes that the most important factors in determining personal satisfaction are a sense of autonomy, competence, relatedness ("feeling that you have regular intimate contact with people who care about you rather than feeling lonely and uncared for"), and self-esteem. Not making the list were influence, luxury, or money, many of the things that we typically (and falsely) associate with a happy life (Sheldon et al., 2001).
Reconnecting to place is about taking control of our lives. Much of our frustration today is a function of our feelings of having little or no control over the events and dynamics that shape and affect us, whether military action in Iraq or an economic downturn or the morning traffic congestion in which we find ourselves stuck. Commitments to place are about taking charge, about proactively participating in the creation of one's own life, while at the same time seeking to connect to others.
It may be difficult to affect or influence the broader economic and social forces, but commitments to and participation at the level of place offers the possibility of real change, of making important differences in the feel and quality of one's own life and the lives of others in the community. And as the stories and examples in this book show, the methods of personal engagement are myriad: creating public art, gardening, mentoring a child, shopping at a community food store, and strolling in one's own neighborhood, for example.
An agenda of strong and vital places has a tremendous potential to build greater resilience into our communities and individual lives in many ways, from place-based energy systems that strengthen the economy, protect the local (and global) environment, and contribute to uniqueness of place, to green forms of infrastructure that provide essential services while celebrating and protecting important place qualities.
If happiness is at least in part about the richness of experience, exposure to a vitality and variety of voices and perspectives is essential. Bigness and the growing corporate consolidation in our society and in our communities further diminish place and uniqueness of place. For example, the recent changes in Federal Communication Commission rules allowing greater corporate ownership of local media, and the general trends in this direction, threaten the expression of many diverse and locally unique voices. It is already common practice for many seemingly local television and radio broadcasts—the weather, the state and local news—to originate hundreds of miles away in the studios of large, centralized news organizations. It is not just that the stores and cafés of the future will look alike and carry the same fare, but, perhaps even more profound, that the voice and message from media may increasingly have a singular content. In this way, sameness in place strikes at the very heart of our democracy.
Local communities have it within their power to provide safe harbor for and actively cultivate these unique local voices and talents, to the enjoyment of many. Local-oriented media, community radio and television, can be an important element in strengthening communities and emphasizing the uniqueness of place, providing a partial antidote to sameness. Creative community media centers, such as the one in Grand Rapids, Michigan, provide local media training and cover local music, artists, community events, and much more.
The challenges of growing centralization and consolidation in our society, which manifest in a marked shift away from a neighborhood and community orientation, are considerable indeed. As supermarkets have become larger, many smaller neighborhood groceries have closed. To reach the supermarket, one needs a car, often making it harder for the less affluent members of the community to reach them (Sustainable Food Center, undated). Small pharmacies, bakeries, and clothing stores have fallen to the one-stop shopping of supercenters, now getting ever larger. Movie theaters have also gotten larger, with an ever-rising number of screens to choose from. The Daly City Megaplex, in the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, has an amazing twenty screens—"megaplex mania" reads a recent San Francisco Chronicle headline (Meyer, 2003). At the same time, many small neighborhood theaters have bitten the dust (an estimated three dozen over the last twenty years). Communities have resisted these changes, and organizations like the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation have formed to battle their loss, with some degree of success (Adams, 2002). Some of the new megaplexes are in downtown locations (such as San Mateo's twelve-screen Century Theater), but many are not; they are for the most part large chains with little connection to the communities in which they are situated.
Excerpted from Native to Nowhere by Timothy Beatley. Copyright © 2004 Timothy Beatley. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments Chapter 1. Sustaining Place in the Global Age Chapter 2. Place Basics: Concepts, Research, Literature Chapter 3. Place Strengthening through History and Heritage Chapter 4. Tackling Sprawl: Community Design, Sustainability, and Place Chapter 5. Nature and Place: The Role of Natural Environments in Strengthening Commitment to Place Chapter 6. Pedestrian Places Chapter 7. Place Building through Art and Celebration Chapter 8. Learning by Design: Communities That Teach Chapter 9. Strengthening Place through Sharing Institutions Chapter 10. Multigenerational Communities: Places that Sustain and Cherish Children, Families, and the Elderly Chapter 11. Energy and Sustainable Place Making Chapter 12. The New Politics of Place Chapter 13. Renewing Our Place Commitments References Index