The land was ours before we were the land’s.
What fosters that bond, sense of belonging, and attachment we feel toward places that we have journeyed or lived?
Wendell Berry famously said, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are”. Wallace Stegner interprets this as “… talking about the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, and valuing it for the profound investment of labor”.
This bond and connection that we feel toward certain places is defined as a ‘sense of place’ and refers to the attribution of meaning, values, and connection to locations. It is a combination of characteristics that makes a place special and unique. Sense of place involves the human experience in a landscape, the local knowledge and folklore.
So, what makes us feel uniquely connected to the specific physical and social aspects of this city we call home?
Several Atlanta residents explored this question and identified the qualities and attributes that make them feel uniquely connected to their resident city. Here are some of their stories of connection.
The Transplant PhilosophyWhen I first moved to Atlanta, I was struck by how few people were actually from Atlanta. Rather, most everyone I met had moved to Atlanta for school, employment, or were pursuing urban life from smaller towns in the Southeast. The sense that so many people are transplants facilitates the idea that we are all in this together – that we are all soaking up the culture and simultaneously co-creating new opportunities.
We share the experience of commiserating over the charm of southern hospitality and how we can’t make it through the grocery store line without 20-minute conversation with the clerk. This sentiment also promotes the experience of being able to meaningfully shape the culture. You can truly have, implement, and actualize a new idea here– new restaurants, businesses, initiatives. We are a city eager to embrace and support new ideas and we are not taking anything for granted.
The Sprawling Canopy
I grew up in Atlanta and have always loved it, but now that I have lived in other cities, I appreciate the natural landscape. Atlanta has more large trees than any other city I’ve lived, or visited for that matter. A variety of Oaks and blooming trees line Atlanta’s streets, creating a cozy feeling. Some complain that you cannot see sunsets and sunrises because of it, but the trees separate spaces, which give the illusion of a small town in every unique little neighborhood
The Painted StoryAtlanta’s local art scene is like non-other. Even Austin, TX and San Francisco, CA don’t have anything on Atlanta. Artists from all walks of life paint their story and passions on our bridges and public walls. We also utilize graffiti in a very positive and community oriented way – informing people of local music shows, festivals, and activism opportunities. So, whenever I come home to visit or stay awhile, I always enjoy our beautiful public art that everyone can share.
Dimensions of Diversity
One of the ways I feel connected is from the diversity. Coming from an ethnic background it is important that I’m not surrounded by just one race or one way of thinking. I live on diversity and get inspired by different ideas and cultures. Atlanta is full of diversity, not just in the people, but in the actual neighborhoods too. Each Intown neighborhood has it’s own character and aura. There are different personalities in each area and there is always something to do to match your mood.
This Land is OursI feel connection in Atlanta is tied to a lot of different aspects of the physical environment. Atlanta is where I have found practices of connectivity that fuel me the most of any city I’ve lived in. Atlanta is a vibrant city in a slowed-down, grow-at-it’s-own-pace forest. The people sometimes try to move quickly, but its like the land and the weather won’t really let them.
There are pockets of green everywhere you look in Atlanta, hidden streams and hilly nooks and neighborhood forests. While we have smog and litter as much as any big city, you see people in parks in all seasons, at all times of day.
We USE our greenspaces – they don’t just sit there looking pretty. And more than that, it feels like the greenspaces connect us. Like we each have our own little park, and we can talk about them like they are part of us. I’ve heard people say “in my park I saw two people rollerblading,” or “I took a walk near our stream.” We feel a shared ownership of greenspace, but not in a “this land is mine” kind of sense. It’s more like “this land is ours and I am proud of it and honor it and work with it.”
Hereness & Humidity
The weather in Atlanta seems to contribute somehow to connectivity. For most of the year, we seem to like being outside. Even in the heat of the summer you see people walking and biking and playing outdoors. We aren’t running from the bitter cold winds of DC from one apartment to another. We aren’t frying in the 110-degree heat of an Oklahoma summer or listening to our trees break in an Oklahoma iced-over winter. We aren’t lost in some magical desert journey of New Mexico. We feel HERE – in the place we are, and happy about it, participating with it, enjoying it, embracing it even with it’s wet humidity and it’s out-of-personality snow storms. I don’t know what it is, but we like it here. And you can just feel that.
Atlanta’s qualities and attributes create stories that nurture our connection to place and to each other. They speak not only to the physical qualities and attributes of places but also to their historic and social value. The art of Atlanta’s geography reciprocates identity. Atlanta, this place we call home, helps know not just know where we are but who we are.