The name Proud Places was not conceived in any sort of branding meeting. It was not hatched by a committee or delivered onto us from high. The fact that its alliterative is nice, but entirely accidental. The fact that it rings of Strong Towns is unfortunate, but also entirely accidental. But hey, at least it’s alliterative, right? The name Proud Places was a result of a distillation process whereby only two words were left that accurately summed up absolutely everything regarding the effects the built environment has on our life.
The places a majority of people find themselves inhabiting are a product of some serious, top-notch, soul-crushing, fuckery.
Place is not the same as placemaking. Placemaking is cool and all, but that is not what we are on about. Place refers to our surroundings. The environment in which we exist. More than a location, but the nature of that location. Place is powerful and it shapes us. We have all had a meal that has changed our lives and we give food its due respect. We have all had a song sweep us up and bring about emotions we had no intent on experiencing. There is no shortage of writing on music. We have all had the experience of smelling something that transported us to the past. There really isn’t much out in the world pertaining to smelling, so let’s leave that aside. All of our senses have the ability to change the way we feel, the way we act, to add or detract from our lives. But place trumps all that shit. In one single place, we can hear sounds that cheer us up, smell something that makes our mouth water, see something that takes our breath away, feel a sense of connectedness and belonging.
If all we ever listened to was sad music, we would likely be sad. If all we ever ate was McDonalds, we would likely feel like shit. If all we ever smelled was Ax Body Spray, life would be meaningless. This is how place works. If we spend all of our time in places that are devoid of beauty and pride, we begin to become those places. Places can lift us up and make us feel more and places can tear us down and make us not care. Know this. Places we call trashy aren’t settled by trashy people, they were allowed to decline and the people in those places became trashy. Those people began to reflect their surroundings over time. WE ARE A PRODUCT OF OUR ENVIRONMENT.
Generally speaking, if you walk a lot, you are likely living in a place that is walkable. If you can only shop at national chains, you are likely living in a place that is sprawling. If you have lots of friends in your neighborhood, you are likely living in a place that makes it easy to bump into one another. Your physical health is affected by your place, your social health is affected by your place, your emotional health is affected by your place. So much of the quality of a person’s life is dictated by the place in which they live it.
There are enough issues we are facing in our country that it is safe to say, we need to make some changes. If we want to change people’s behavior, we have to change their place.
Everyone one of us has walked into a place that made us feel empowered or grown-up or special. Everyone of us has walked into a place that instantly made us feel sad and alone. We know that feeling first hand, we seek it out or we avoid it. What if that place was your home? What if the place you drove past real fast because it made you feel like shit was where you raised your family. The stories we love the most are people overcoming the odds and rising up in places where few are able. You think those places are just full of less capable people? You might, and that makes you an ass. No, they are places that shape people in a way that makes it harder for them to lift themselves up. You know that stupid phrase “pick yourself up by your bootstraps”, it was meant sarcastically, you can’t fucking pick yourself by your own feet. We have allowed our places to decline to a point where the people they are shaping are struggling.
There are 10,000 towns in our country that are unsatisfactory. These towns are shaping people in a manner that is detrimental to people and not great for us a whole. If we want to realize change, we can’t keep placing blame on people, we have to understand that people are a product of their environment and most environments are awful.
People haven’t just up and decided to be less awesome over time, we have less awesome places so more people’s lives are being shaped accordingly. I grew up in my grandfather’s town, but my place couldn’t have been more different. His place was one that fostered friendships and connections. His was a place that made you feel good about yourself. His place was one where you could get involved and make a difference. Where you felt like you could contribute to the community and in-turn, the community would support you. His place was one where being a business owner was easily obtainable.
My place sucked. We had to drive to everything. Downtown was known to be scary and was generally off-limits. We knew a couple of neighbors, but it wasn’t a community. We rarely witnessed anything that could be described as beautiful and diversity was a foreign car. We couldn’t spend money with someone local if we tried. This was a place that shaped people not to care, to tune out, to give up. This was a place that only a very select few people would ever become passionate about and most, if they had the means are desire, got the fuck out. It makes me feel bad for talking trash the town that I grew up in, but I am not the one that trashed it.
That town had become two different places producing two very different types of people. My generation would have been so much better off if we had been shaped by my grandfather’s place.
This is why the word is Place. People in this field always talk about cities which immediately excludes so many. We have to include people living in small towns and villages and in farming communities as well. We have created a huge unnecessary divide between people by misusing urban and rural terminology as well. Urban and rural refer to landscapes, not big city or small town. Place is a commonality amongst all people that live somewhere. Everyone lives in a place and all of them can be conducive to shaping them in a positive manner. Every place can and should be well thought out, attractive, and inviting. Every place should make people feel proud to call home.
Place is the issue we are tackling, and we are taking it head-on. We are making the case that you ignore place to your extreme detriment. We are telling civic leaders that if they don’t pay attention to the shape of place, they will continue to decline. Place is why we travel, place is why we move. When realtors say “location, location, location,” they nailed that shit. An amazing house in a lousy place isn’t so amazing. Desirable neighborhoods are so much more than a collection of houses, but how those houses relate to one another, and the space between those houses, its about place. We are making the case because it needs to be made. We are elevating the discussion and building a bigger platform and other cliches. Because during this decade, we are going to realize the importance of place and how much better we can do.
We are going to have you all thinking about place like you do food: obsessing over that shit, thinking about all the ingredients we put into place; getting all worked up about what places you have to visit. People will start calling themselves Place Snobs and get real righteous and annoying. Just think of the books and shows you will get to enjoy on place. Think of all the celebrity place advocates that will start filling your feed and dominating your tv. And when you picture it, just know, I will be the mother fucking Rachel Ray of that shit!
To be continued. Part 2 – Why Pride?