A Place For Connection

Spending the afternoon working in our urban farm leaves the smell of sage on my palms and the scent of baby tomato leaves still on my lips from holding them in my mouth as I planted them one by one.  I love this space.  It is alive with the hustle and bustle of honeybees, grasshoppers and a 90-year old tortoise that follows us around looking for a dropped tomato or two.

Connection is what makes us human 

This little urban backyard slice of heaven was a creation manifested by a tribe of women, all wanting to create a place out of a space. This space is a demonstration of human connection and communal harmony with people that live around us. It illustrates how taking the steps to form relationships with people in one’s community can lead to a sustainable living environment. Just as Yi-Fu Tuan says, we take for granted the “space and place [that are] basic components of the lived world”—it is when we think about them more closely that they “may assume unexpected meanings and raise questions we have not thought to ask”.

A place creates a sense of pause

One might ask; where are the opportunities to connect with those around us? What is the exact moment that trust begins to form and strangers become familiar? While you ponder these questions, let me briefly explain the difference between the concept of ‘space’ and ‘place’ within the context of this particular collaboration. Space is simply square footage, a distance that is a “meaningless spatial concept apart from the idea of goal or place”—it is the unintentional that exists before we form it into a place. A place is where we “pause”; we settle down because the location is advantageous in one way or another, and our presence imbues the former space with a goal and an intention. Because of this pause, there is an opportunity for “a locality to become a center of felt value”. That opportunity is what we want to take in this project. We live so closely with one another, that within these spaces people share in our everyday lives, we are given chance after chance to connect. Yet, we don’t connect and relationships are not formed where they could have been. The urban environment lends itself to making “passive contact” relationships in spaces that we find ourselves in while entering and exiting our private space. But, how can we get to a place where chance meetings become opportunities to share our lives? This urban farm project is geared towards changing this trend of isolation and alienation within an urban space: the urban terrain, where I live.

Reshaping the sense of belonging

When people connect, they create. What they create are relationships that support the exchange of ideas and resources. Coming together in the shared spaces that border our lives leads to the creation of a place that belongs to everyone. Creating a space for connection can be done in small and subtle ways, such as someone planting flowers and putting a welcome mat out. They can also be a collection of ideas such as a mural or a rain garden. A community can be a brilliant, sacred, living and breathing place whose people are its richest and most powerful resource.

The theory behind placemaking is that it should engage people within a community and inspire them to take ownership of a common space and transform it. After the metamorphosis takes place, it should become a place that will nurture relationships, repair the ecology and be vitally self-sustaining. No longer should people “hurry home”; placemaking would give people the option and the motivation to slow down, enjoy their neighborhood and their community because of the welcoming and transformed surroundings they are in.

Placemaking is also about our relationship to our city.  Cities are made up of different types of communities filled with different individuals. Yet, we assume that all communities have the same types of urban issues that we have come to assume made up the norm.  So, how can we redefine the norm? How can we as city citizens reframe what we have learned and experienced from our urban experiences? Can forming relationships with those around us create a reshaping of the city grid? Can this grid of lines be blurred with a knock on a neighbor’s door, a block party, or a traveling dinner party? Instead of a grid, there is “life between buildings”—the concept that passive contacts are important because these small contacts are the gateway towards more complex relationships that can be a source of inspiration and companionship down the road. Placemaking would facilitate the meshing of former strangers and the creation of new friendships rather than allowing a barrier to come up between inhabitants within a neighborhood. Placemaking is a way to ground us in the reality that forming personal relationships with our neighbors will be our new way to design our communities and our cities. And a new way to confirm we belong.

Stephanie Speights