Highlights from Session on Place Attachment
(11.30.16) When Melody Warnick relocated to Blacksburg, Virginia, she knew that something in her life was missing – specifically, place attachment, that emotional bond between people and place. Melody set about fixing this problem, and through academic research, and more importantly, through personal experiments, a keen interest in place attachment developed – one that ultimately led to her authoring her first book, This is Where You Belong: the Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. On November 9, (yes the day after the election), we hosted a community conversation with Melody Warnick, along with this panel of local experts to localize the discussion: Zulma Zabala from East End Neighborhood House, David Wilson from LAND studio and Indigo Bishop from ioby.
Following the session, we sat down with Melody to discuss her book, her insights on place attachment, and reflections on her visit to Cleveland.
Q: Take us through your recent visit to Cleveland. What were some highlights?
Melody: It was a whirlwind trip – I did so much in a relatively short time period. I spent my one night in Cleveland in the University Circle neighborhood, and the vibrancy of it all really impressed me. I loved how people were out on the streets, even at night, interacting with each other and their surroundings. There were so many restaurants, too; I felt like I could happily eat there for the next month and never exhaust all the possibilities! Having never been to Cleveland before, that was a lovely surprise. In the morning, I arrived at the Saint Luke’s Foundation offices at Saint Luke’s Pointe and presented to a small group of board members and community stakeholders. I was completely bowled over by Saint Luke’s Pointe. It’s a wonderful repurposing of an older hospital building. Lots of cities have buildings like these – real gems – but leaders and residents aren’t quite sure what to do with them.Saint Luke’s Pointe is a really a shining example of people transforming what could have been an eyesore and a problem for the neighborhood into a huge asset.
Q: During your presentation to the community, you mentioned three kinds of people, from a place attachment perspective: mobile, stuck and rooted. Tell us more.
Melody: People who are stuck generally stay in place because they have a job or family nearby.Some people are stuck because they don’t have enough money to move on.Either way, there’s no joy in it all for them, or they are not invested in their community. I think what transitions people from being stuck to being rooted are those things that make them enjoy where they live. If they can find pride of place, if they can develop a sense of community, and ultimately, a sense of belonging, then that transition is possible. In these cases, it really is some of the ‘softer’ things, like a farmer’s market, or a neighborhood festival. Simply put, living near the things you enjoy builds your sense of attachment and makes you happy staying where you are. I like to focus on the things that actual residents can implement and accomplish. They can show up to events, patronize local businesses, meet people in their community, beautify their neighborhood, work to establish personal connections and lines of communication, and many, many other great things.
Q: Tell us about your background as an expert on and advocate of place attachment; where did you start on this journey, and how did you end up where you are today?
Melody: I have been a really mobile person for the past 15 years or so.After my husband finished graduate school, we moved to Austin, Texas, and we thought, “This is it – we’re going to live here forever.” Yet we were there for only a few years before we realized that Austin actually wasn’t our dream city…and maybe Blacksburg, Virginia might be! So we moved to Blacksburg, but it wasn’t long before I realized that Blacksburg wasn’t that ideal dream city, either. Time and time again, I kept looking for a city that would complete me, and never quite found it, and that led me to wonder, what makes people feel happy about where they live? What makes people feel rooted in a particular place and want to stay there? I realized that I needed that in my life, so I started doing some research and came across this concept of place attachment. I eventually found that the feeling of being connected to place comes as a direct result of certain behaviors and actions.So I started doing some of those things, and over time, it changed how I felt about my town.
Q: For neighborhoods like those served by Saint Luke’s Foundation, what are some strategies that residents and neighborhood leaders can employ to strengthen place attachment on a very grass-roots level?
Melody: One of the things that really struck me in reflecting on my presentation was something that Indigo Bishop from ioby said during it, and that’s that people develop relationships best when they’re engaged in doing something together – when they’re doing something active. I think that’s key for any neighborhood. It could be something as simple as having dinner with your neighbors, or taking them bread, it could be watching the big game together, or sharing an experience over a common interest.
One example I cited in my presentation was about two sisters from Philadelphia who lived on a street that really struggled after the foreclosure crisis. In response, they started a “Clean and Green” project where they encouraged neighbors to plant flowers, install planters, take care of vacant lots and just do whatever they felt they could to beautify their space. That act of neighborliness created positive relationships – it gave neighbors something exciting and positive to talk about, which opened up lines of communication within the neighborhood that were previously closed.And it also was change you could see – a quick, visible win that made residents feel better about their neighborhood. In a larger sense, it also changed the tenor of conversation there as well, which is really important.
Q: What do you hope people come away with after reading your book?
Melody: I really hope that people fall in love with their place a little more. Despite all the research and all the strategies and tactics, so much of place attachment comes down to simply an exercise in positive thinking and shifting your perspective. I believe in the power of people to start things – to make things happen in their community, so I also hope readers feel empowered to make change for themselves. It’s not so much changing your city in a big way, but it can be as small as changing your interactions with your neighbors, or changing a few of your own behaviors in ways that make your experience with your place happier.
By: Nelson Beckford
Senior Program Officer, A Strong Neighborhood
Saint Luke’s Foundation