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Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America

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Contemporary American society, with its emphasis on mobility and economic progress, all too often loses sight of the importance of a sense of “place” and community. Appreciating place is essential for building the strong local communities that cultivate civic engagement, public leadership, and many of the other goods that contribute to a flourishing human life. Do we, in lo Contemporary American society, with its emphasis on mobility and economic progress, all too often loses sight of the importance of a sense of “place” and community. Appreciating place is essential for building the strong local communities that cultivate civic engagement, public leadership, and many of the other goods that contribute to a flourishing human life. Do we, in losing our places, lose the crucial basis for healthy and resilient individual identity, and for the cultivation of public virtues? For one can’t be a citizen without being a citizen of some place in particular; one isn’t a citizen of a motel. And if these dangers are real and present ones, are there ways that intelligent public policy can begin to address them constructively, by means of reasonable and democratic innovations that are likely to attract wide public support? Why Place Matters takes these concerns seriously, and its contributors seek to discover how, given the American people as they are, and American economic and social life as it now exists—and not as those things can be imagined to be in some utopian scheme—we can find means of fostering a richer and more sustaining way of life. The book is an anthology of essays exploring the contemporary problems of place and placelessness in American society. The book includes contributions from distinguished scholars and writers such as poet Dana Gioia (former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts), geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, urbanist Witold Rybczynski, architect Philip Bess, essayists Christine Rosen and Ari Schulman, philosopher Roger Scruton, transportation planner Gary Toth, and historians Russell Jacoby and Joseph Amato.


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Contemporary American society, with its emphasis on mobility and economic progress, all too often loses sight of the importance of a sense of “place” and community. Appreciating place is essential for building the strong local communities that cultivate civic engagement, public leadership, and many of the other goods that contribute to a flourishing human life. Do we, in lo Contemporary American society, with its emphasis on mobility and economic progress, all too often loses sight of the importance of a sense of “place” and community. Appreciating place is essential for building the strong local communities that cultivate civic engagement, public leadership, and many of the other goods that contribute to a flourishing human life. Do we, in losing our places, lose the crucial basis for healthy and resilient individual identity, and for the cultivation of public virtues? For one can’t be a citizen without being a citizen of some place in particular; one isn’t a citizen of a motel. And if these dangers are real and present ones, are there ways that intelligent public policy can begin to address them constructively, by means of reasonable and democratic innovations that are likely to attract wide public support? Why Place Matters takes these concerns seriously, and its contributors seek to discover how, given the American people as they are, and American economic and social life as it now exists—and not as those things can be imagined to be in some utopian scheme—we can find means of fostering a richer and more sustaining way of life. The book is an anthology of essays exploring the contemporary problems of place and placelessness in American society. The book includes contributions from distinguished scholars and writers such as poet Dana Gioia (former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts), geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, urbanist Witold Rybczynski, architect Philip Bess, essayists Christine Rosen and Ari Schulman, philosopher Roger Scruton, transportation planner Gary Toth, and historians Russell Jacoby and Joseph Amato.

30 review for Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Russell Fox

    This is an interesting collection of essays, even more random than the usual range of essays you might find in any thematically connected volume. Quite a few of them simply fell flat for me, mostly because they were too brief or they were, in my view, rather unsubtle and unsophisticated in their politics. But a handful were truly wonderful--and, perhaps not coincidentally, given the premise of the argument, that handful almost entirely were meditations upon on the way we, and our built communiti This is an interesting collection of essays, even more random than the usual range of essays you might find in any thematically connected volume. Quite a few of them simply fell flat for me, mostly because they were too brief or they were, in my view, rather unsubtle and unsophisticated in their politics. But a handful were truly wonderful--and, perhaps not coincidentally, given the premise of the argument, that handful almost entirely were meditations upon on the way we, and our built communities, take up space. In other words, they touched on transportation (the first and longest essay in the volume, Ari Schulman's "GPS and the End of the Road," was brilliantly thoughtful), urban development (with a couple of thoughtful architects and scholars of urbanism, Witold Rybczynski and Philip Bess, taking somewhat opposite positions on the central question of how or if we can or should rebuild our environmentally unsustainable and often ugly cities), civic activity, and much more--all of which are topics which fascinate me. So while these essays are far from all equally worth your time, it was, for me nonetheless, a volume worth working through.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Sigrist

    This was a little too academic for what I was expecting. I wish I was reading this in a college course to get some discussion around it because it was a struggle to get through it on my own. Favorite essays: GPS and the End of the Road, Place-Conscious Transportation Policy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jennie Richards

    This well-researched book has given me a deeper awareness and consciousness about the meaning and sense of "place." I bought the book because I have come to believe that there are places where we really thrive better than others. Whether it's the energy of the place or city, the sense of community, the physical beauty, culture, arts, nature, people or parks -- there are certain places where each of us becomes more alive, reaches our potential more easily and naturally, and we became our best sel This well-researched book has given me a deeper awareness and consciousness about the meaning and sense of "place." I bought the book because I have come to believe that there are places where we really thrive better than others. Whether it's the energy of the place or city, the sense of community, the physical beauty, culture, arts, nature, people or parks -- there are certain places where each of us becomes more alive, reaches our potential more easily and naturally, and we became our best selves. So the book interested me in understanding this better. The book is somewhat academic, but overall, I enjoyed reading it and learning more about why we flourish in "places" and what makes places really great to live in or visit.

  4. 5 out of 5

    The American Conservative

    "Ted McAllister closes his essay by noting that “Healthy freedom, at least in the American story, require[s] places that move citizens to love where they live, to find themselves part of a local story … and to invest their time and energy in the evolution of a place strange, distinct, and perhaps even a little weird.” Why Place Matters provides resources that challenge, educate, and encourage anyone disquieted by a felt loss of attachment to consider seriously how place might be revived and our "Ted McAllister closes his essay by noting that “Healthy freedom, at least in the American story, require[s] places that move citizens to love where they live, to find themselves part of a local story … and to invest their time and energy in the evolution of a place strange, distinct, and perhaps even a little weird.” Why Place Matters provides resources that challenge, educate, and encourage anyone disquieted by a felt loss of attachment to consider seriously how place might be revived and our civic life reinvigorated." Jonathan Coppage reviews: http://www.theamericanconservative.co...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Collected reflections on local places from a number of disciplinary perspectives, growing out of a 2011 conference at Pepperdine's public policy school. There are several common themes, most notably the importance of place to individual identity, and the need to protect places from the bigs (government, planners, developers). I particularly valued Joseph A. Amato's essay on the role of local historians, and Gary Toth's piece on the impact of transportation policy choices on places. Collected reflections on local places from a number of disciplinary perspectives, growing out of a 2011 conference at Pepperdine's public policy school. There are several common themes, most notably the importance of place to individual identity, and the need to protect places from the bigs (government, planners, developers). I particularly valued Joseph A. Amato's essay on the role of local historians, and Gary Toth's piece on the impact of transportation policy choices on places.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jake Cooper

    Two of the 16 essays are good, but the majority do little to dispel the humanities' reputation as: - vacuous ("Place draws us back to the past, but it also serves us as a launching pad from which we are made capable of thrusting forward and upward.") - vague science minus data ("What family members do around each other at home has less and less to do with each other.") Two of the 16 essays are good, but the majority do little to dispel the humanities' reputation as: - vacuous ("Place draws us back to the past, but it also serves us as a launching pad from which we are made capable of thrusting forward and upward.") - vague science minus data ("What family members do around each other at home has less and less to do with each other.")

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    917.3 W6293 2014

  8. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

  9. 5 out of 5

    Safuan Zahin

  10. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mark Perkins

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael Krysiak

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rob Harrelson

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michiel

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul Sparks

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Jackson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Becky Hsu

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Den Hartog

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ashton Tassin

  21. 4 out of 5

    Malachi Maglaya

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  23. 4 out of 5

    Philip

  24. 4 out of 5

    Quinn Parman

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael Enright

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Blake Blount

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Vander meulen

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