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I made up a word│Issue #1
Welcome to Placeful!
My name is Emily, and I live along the Colorado River, in the Arid Canyonlands of the Colorado Plateau in a little gateway community called Moab, Utah.
Before we get going, I just want to say thank you. We live in a hectic world, and the fact that you ended up here, giving your attention to this humble little newsletter, means a lot to me!
What is placefulness?
I made up a word. And I still feel weird about it, because after all, who actually has the authority to make up an entirely new word?
I created a new word because I felt there wasn’t an easy way to talk about a concept I am deeply interested in: how manifesting a “sense of place” on an individual level might lead to intentional decision-making when it comes to social, economic, and environmental sustainability within our homes and communities.
Merriam Webster has a collection of definitions for place that is quite extensive, including 12 unique uses ranging from “a physical environment” to “a distinct condition, position, or state of mind,” and not foregoing “remunerative employment.” And that’s just the nouns.
As far as sense of place goes, things get even more muddled. Wikipedia offers this definition: “a multidimensional, complex construct used to characterize the relationship between people and spatial settings.” Furthermore, it is often used to explain spatial characteristics that “foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging.”
How is it that talking about our personal relationships to the places around us is so complicated? That’s why I decided to make up a new word.
Placefulness, n. the practice of expanding one’s understanding of and relationship to the built, historic, natural, and cultural environment of a place.
I retain the right to change and modify this definition (for now), but this is the best way I could think to expand discourse around the concept, or at least to offer more clarity within my own writing.
Introduction to Placeful, my newsletter I’d love for you to subscribe to <3
This newsletter is my way of sharing the concept of placefulness with the world, of helping us all to fall in love with the places that define us. Through a combination of research, reflection, conversation, and optimism, my goal in each issue is to encourage us all to do more than just live in a place. I want us to all truly engage with the places we live.
To me, this means engaging with our geography. Understanding our place on the earth, in both time and space. What came before us, and the impact of our footsteps on the communities that will follow.
It means engaging with our landscape. Sitting, walking, running, playing in our backyards and wild spaces. It’s appreciating that these places should not only exist but thrive because of our deep interdependence on the organisms that absorb and consume and breathe and decompose and circulate the energy of the sun.
It means engaging with our built environment. Crafting a shelter for all the activities of life, something not just reserved for human beings. It’s contemplating the balance between utility and art — and striving to maintain that balance.
It means engaging with our communities. Opening our doors to new relationships with our neighbors, our businesses, our schools. Engaging with new opinions, and being accepting of and curious about ways of living dissimilar to our own. Finally, it’s opening ourselves up to be vulnerable with the people around us whose lives are interwoven with ours, due in part to proximity, in order to write new stories and form new connections.
If we all work on connecting more deeply to our communities and natural spaces, we will collectively do a better job of caring for them. That is my ultimate goal for this newsletter.
The argument for placefulness
Yi-Fu Tuan, a geographer who has written extensively about sense of place, once said, “People think that geography is about capitals, land forms, and so on. But it is also about place — its emotional tone, social meaning, and generative potential.”
Researchers in the realms of ecology and sustainability have been thinking about how to leverage sense of place theory. A 2017 article published in Ecology & Society states that “sustainability is about defining and working toward creating a tenable place for humanity to live. Whether place refers to one’s backyard or the planet as a whole, understanding how people relate to places is key for sustainable development.” The authors also understand the subjective nature of sense of place, something that if accounted for, can still be qualitatively studied.
Sense of place theory, place attachment, place-based education, and adjacent topics are of great interest to me, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to guide all of us through the unpacking, relating, and reflecting process necessary to incorporate some of the findings of these academic studies into our everyday lives.
On a somewhat related note, it is my opinion that many of the solutions to climate change, water issues, environmental toxins, and all the other multitudinous ways we are disrupting our planet’s natural systems, are often not presented in ways that are accessible to people who have the desire and motivation to enact them.
Over the life of this newsletter, I aim to propose additional solutions that, while still grounded in evidence, make a parallel emotional argument for taking better care of our communities and our world. While they may not always be tangible, they will be actionable, and the cumulative effect could have wide-ranging consequences for current and future generations on this earth.
Placefulness is achievable for everyone
Many of us do not have the time for a long hike with a native plant expert, or the resources to frequent local history museums. But we can probably give a name to the bird nesting on our porch, or write a quick thank you note to a friend — simple practices of gratitude, expressed in different ways.
In the same way, many of us live more nomadic lives, moving every few days, months, or years, never feeling like we have roots in a place. We, too, can grow a deep appreciation for the places in which we find ourselves. Placefulness is a practice not only for the geographically static; it is a lens through which we view the world, a way of appreciating the uniqueness of our particular time and place, and being resolute in our commitment to make it the best it can be, for everyone and everything.
If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter, Placeful. I’m sure I will make mistakes, and I hope that you will question and challenge me when I do. Most of all, I look forward to growing a community — or a virtual place — of our own, for learning, sharing, and dreaming together.
I’m subscribed, now what?
Once you are subscribed, a new issue of Placeful will magically appear in your email inbox every Saturday. Each newsletter will contain a thoughtfully reported essay, combining personal narrative with current research, as well as a writing prompt meant to encourage reflection that you can either take or leave. I’ll throw in some bonus content now and then, too.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this newsletter evolves over time, and encourage anyone (yes, you too) to reach out to me with feedback, topic ideas, questions, personal triumphs, and other motivational substance that will keep all of us inspired to practice placefulness.
Open it excitedly first thing Saturday morning, or forward it to your work email and get paid to read it … the choice is yours. Either way, I’m excited to open up this dialogue with you all.
Do you know someone who you’d love to talk to about Placeful? Share it with them, too! If everyone could tell one person, that would be quite nice.