4. Place
To be human is to live in a world filled with significant places, and to have a particular affinity to a particular place called 'home'. Place is a difficult concept to define briefly, but it involves qualities of authenticity, character, distinctiveness, personal significance and meaning. Places are undoubtedly valued by people, but are their absolute values to be attributed to environments, or to the people who live there? Much of the controversy of modern planning hinges on relative environmental values and value conflicts between, for example, professional planners and neighbourhood opinion.
    • Society's values are expressed in, for example, the designation of areas as National Parks, reflecting the value of leisure to the national community. In addition to places being the spatial expression of values, people find value in places. Humanistic geography is concerned with the relationship between people and places at the level of subjective experience, and the phrase 'sense of place'has been taken up as the title of a series of school texts.
A distinction has been made between 'place' and 'placelessness'. Places are directly experienced, and they stand out in our memory because, for example, we were happy or lonely, or experienced something new there. This experience may be contrasted with that of placelessness, where there is no personal meaning or significance, either because the environments have not been directly experienced, or because they are monotonously uniform, or planned without feeling.
    • Placelessness is commonly expressed in urban environments with uniform multi- storey carparks, street lamps and underpasses. However village children, with no shops or school, and without cars and a regular bus service, actually grow up with placelessness on a daily basis.
People who have decided to make an effort to establish a sense of place have recognised their community is in a state of 'information poverty'. This is a state characterised by:
    • low levels of awareness;
    • inadequate access;
    • an undeveloped ability to exploit information.
Their efforts are aimed at increasing their 'information capability' through recognising that there is a capacity to define 'place', which can be built upon. Improving information handling skills is closely related to information awareness and confidence, and hence to the general problem- solving capacity and development potential of a group or community. In this sense the concept of 'information capability' is a positive alternative to 'information poverty'.
A community's information capability to define a sense of place is its capacity to acquire and use information for social and economic development. A community with a high information capacity should have an array of community groups, each being aware of information sources relevant to their concerns. Individuals and groups should have established procedures geared- up to use the information. Their preoccupation with their particular passion makes them more inclined to make and take opportunities to apply their skills on behalf of their neighbours, and disseminate information about their own activities.