Helping You Be Contemporary in a Traditional Way

Character of Place and Spirit of Place

We were looking for someone to help us communicate this notion of a sense of place that distinguishes one place from another – what makes every place special in its own way (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).

We came across these explanations from a website for a consulting company. We know nothing about the company and do not endorse them, but we do support their words here:

Character of Place

In our everyday speech we refer to a sense of place, implying that it is a special kind of intuition that some people will be better at than others. We speak of character of place, which implies something solider—the word character comes from the Greek word meaning to engrave, to make a mark on metal. And we often speak of the spirit of a place, which suggests something elusive, hard to pin down.We see those phrases as a continuum of meaning describing what makes a place distinctive, and we would place character of place and spirit of place at opposite ends of that scale.The character of a place is found in the distinctive qualities of its landscape, cultures, and built environment. It is the context in which all of our efforts to preserve, promote, and improve places have to begin.Places are like people: they have personality and character. They are complicated and endlessly interesting; we can and do fall in love with places just as we do with people. And the personality of places matters: we can do a better job of managing, improving, and promoting places if we are tuned in to their distinctive qualities and not just tallying up lists of assets. The most important asset is the place itself, its deep character.We must go beyond assessing and touting certain facts: the quality of the workforce, of the education system, the availability of transportation and warehousing, the availability of tourism services and attractions, or even the presence of a creative class of knowledge workers—important as these are. We need to get at something richer, more complex, and more difficult to describe: the distinctive character of the place.

Spirit of Place

In Roman mythology natural places were thought to be inhabited by a residing spirit, the genius loci. We define the spirit of a place as the emotional connection people have made to the place, based on the distinctive qualities of its landscape, cultures, and built environment. It is people who infuse a place with a unique spirit.When people feel richly connected to the places where they live, work, and play they will invest more of themselves in those places. They will participate in civic life, engage in the issues that shape the future. The connection of people to a place—again, to the land itself, to the cultures people have created there, and to the buildings people have built there—is a form of social capital, perhaps the single most important factor in whether a real community exists in a place.To have healthy places, we must find ways to keep alive what is distinctive and emotionally compelling there, which begins in understanding what those things are.

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