This is the third in a short series of posts on the issue of “place.” Place and space are sometimes used in interchangeably, but less so recently. If you think about it, you can reason why. “Place” has connotations of significance to the people who use it. “Space” could have these same connotations, but the word itself implies a sort of nothingness: think outer space. Through this short series of posts, I’ll be emphasizing the importance of examining your own world in terms of its places and spaces. This has more implications than just academic, if you do commit to understanding places and spaces you can begin to change them and make them “better.” For an introduction to this series, click here.
I’ve been thinking how to best recognize the differences between places and spaces. I happened upon two thoughts. The deeper one is the connection between human emotion and these places and spaces. Places promote a feeling of belonging, maybe even happiness (depending on the place). Some places excite you, others relax you. Spaces, as described above, don’t usually have much emotion associated with them (unless its subconscious sense of dread).
There’s an even easier way to tell the difference between a place and a space. People congregate in a place and (quickly) pass through a space. Referring back to the images in the second post of this series, its difficult to imagine a situation in which I would linger in such a space. Aside from my needing to catch my breath! Places draw people in, like a warm greeting from an old friend. In particular, they have the ability to stop passersby in their tracks. This ability, by the way, has probably increased since humans (Americans in particular) have forgotten how to construct places.
The pictures below are good examples of “place.” All are found in northern Virginia. That people congregate here is obvious, but what makes these places extraordinary is that they are used for extraordinary events. Take the cobbled street in Alexandria, Virginia. On this particular day, wedding photos were being taken up the hill on the other end of the street from where I stood. IT’S A STREET. Can you imagine taking wedding photos on some other street? No you can’t. The re-purposed fertilizer plant was to my right. These places are practically on the street, yet have the power to invite pedestrians to sit and relax, or to come back for a special occasion.
Then there’s my favorite post-run relaxation spot, two views are provided below. This place is my personal definition of the perfect place. And I doubt I’m the only one who thinks so. Like the cobbled street, this place is also used for extraordinary purposes. Besides weddings, I think I’ve seen wedding parties here every Saturday for the past month, this place is also used for quinceañera photos. This place is used to not only commemorate the joining of two individuals but to commemorate the coming of age of one’s daughter. The place, like the event, is special. There’s another reason that this place is special. Not only do locals come to this place to gather, read a newspaper, or just listen to the running water, but tourists come as well. One can often see out-of-towners enjoying these same places. I’m tempted to conduct a little survey as to what draws various people to this place. In fact, I shall! (Stay tuned!)
So what is it that makes these places special? The second photo of the Water Park provides depicts a number of elements creating a wonderful constructed place. Of course, this place might not appeal to those desirous of a more “natural” place – its man-made after all! But it includes plenty of greenspace. There are a lot of trees and grass all of which are accessible for lounging on. It gives the eyes something green, natural to rest on. Something that isn’t a glass-building or a vast roadway. There is also a sense of enclosure. Note that even though the street is within steps of this place, trees are placed separating the park from the road. Pedestrians can wander into this place and feel separated from the hurtling steel harbingers of death (commonly called “cars”) on the street. The trees and grass, besides being a pleasant place to rest the eyes, also do double duty as places to rest the body. Trees provide shade, which is necessary during hot, humid summer days. I didn’t realize how necessary until I encountered this park.Trees go a long way to alleviating pressure from an unbearable sun. I used to hate summer. And grass provides an alternative place to sit or lie down. Besides the grass, there is an ample amount of benches and tables wear families, friends, and lovers can sit, chat, and relax. Finally, there is the water. I can’t even describe why this is important part of the place – I just know it is. Perhaps its the association between water and life, renewal, cleansing, or tranquility? Perhaps the falling water is reminiscent of a babbling brook? Water isn’t a necessary component for the creation of a great place, but – in this instance – its wonderfully over the top. The water is what brings locals, tourists, brides, grooms, and blushing 15-year olds to this place, month after month, year after year.
I wrote above that places have a deeper, subconscious connection to human emotion. Here’s the only evidence you need of a special place: a laughing, running, child, who finds the surprised parent charging after them to be far less interesting than the patch of green resting near a small pond.