While Thrift (2009) qualifies place as one construction of space, other human geographers often conceptualize place as something that is embedded in space and has spatial qualities, but also as something that is conceptually distinct from space. In its simplest form, we can think of places as meaningful, material locations in space. Yet the same caveat applies here as with space: this is a crude simplification of place that downplays its incredible complexity.
What makes place, like space, so complex is that people (and other creatures) construct places through their daily activities within them. Over time, places take on significance—be it personal, historical, economic, political, or some other form. And here, too, significance is complex, and it is experienced across a range of intensities. Consider, for example, various people regarding the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi in Washington Square Park, in New York City. One may be moved by it, citing Garibaldi’s role as a founder of the Italian state. Another may find it interesting for its artistic style. A third might have fond memories of the monument because of a first kiss that took place by its base. A fourth might find it distasteful or un-American. A fifth be aware of its existence but be completely uninterested in it—and so on.
Cresswell (2004) provides a concise but thorough discussion of the nature of place. One particularly important thing to bear in mind in discussion of place is that although geographers have historically written about place as static or unchanging, it is actually quite dynamic—and this is one of the factors that makes place difficult to pin down, but also such a rich subject to study.
That dynamism becomes most visible in periods of economic growth or decline in a place. For example, cities that are experiencing considerable gentrification may lose some aspect of what once made them unique as locally-owned small businesses are replaced by high-end boutiques, or as neighborhood demographics change with an influx of wealth. Likewise, if a major employer leaves a place and there are no other employers who can offer jobs at comparable rates, the resulting economic decline may result in deteriorating houses as people have less disposable income to put into maintenance, or crumbling infrastructure as the city’s tax revenues decline. Long-term residents of a place that has undergone significant change over the years might point out the locations of businesses or other institutions that have disappeared, or buildings that stand on what was once undeveloped land; in either case, the location might be the same, but the place and the way that people think or feel about it will have changed.
Note: Registered students can access the readings in Canvas by clicking on the Library Resources link.**
** The list of the Lesson 1 readings might not be available on the Library Resources page during the Orientation week.
Cresswell, T. (2004). Place: A short introduction. Blackwell.
Thrift, N. (2003). Space: The fundamental stuff of geography. In S. Holloway, S. P. Rice, and G. Valentine, (Eds.), Key concepts in geography, (pp. 95-107). Sage.