EXPLORATION: How do you define place?

Catalyzing Newport coordinators SueEllen Kroll and Kathleen Shannon ask us to reflect on our definition of “place.” This week Carol Coletta and Daniel Harris from the Knight Foundation join Newport’s cultural, historical, public service and community leaders to explore the role of history, including stories and spaces of civic engagement and sense of heritage, for strengthening identity and building a vibrant community.

How do you define place?

Is it a physical space, bound by geographical boundaries or walls? Is it something you belong to – like a church, family or neighborhood? Is it where you escape to or where you can feel most yourself? Is it a space where you celebrate or mourn? Is it where you ended up or where you began?

“Place” can be used in so many contexts, and, if you think about it, it is such a common word. But, for all its commonness, it is also very powerful and evocative.  If we share place in common, do we share some of the same memories? Do we share the same language and movements? Does sharing place allow us to share the same stories? Does it help us seek connection and find comfort?  Does it allow us to begin a dialogue? Even more exciting, is it a cause to create, innovate, and change together?

Each day I am in Newport, I consume its rich history – a history I underappreciated until I got out of my car and walked aimlessly through its cobbled streets. By chance, I stumbled across the best local place for coffee, the best place to admire a sunset, and the best place to observe a snowy owl. All along these personal journeys, I shared stories with Newport’s eclectic – and yes, eccentric citizens. Which is the most important factor to how I define a place: by its people.

In the city’s renowned archives and museums, I learned about the historical characters that labored and built this city – physically, intellectually, and creatively. Thought leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, racers, writers, worshippers, rockstars, and so forth. The list of notables is endless! But it’s no one story or one person that takes the cake. Rather, I marvel at the collective imprint of history’s “disruptors” that have traveled in and out of this port city, each contributing to Newport’s distinctive personality.

So I ask you to reflect: How do you define place? What’s important in a place to you? What do you love about it now? Could it be better? If so, how would you make it better?

Learn more about creative placemaking here: Creative placemaking 101 for community developers by Anna Gadwa Nicodemus