Tuesday 12 January 2016

Re-appreciating Place

Last week, I had the opportunity to take part in a long-term learning project that has been named after various geographic regions where it takes place – in the case I participated in in northern Georgia, it is the Piedmont Project. In northern Arizona, it’s the Ponderosa Project, and I hear that there are many additional regional variants.  

These projects exist to engage faculty in the places in which they teach, and through that engagement, to support them in taking on sustainability themes in their courses—whether that be through explicit learning for sustainability and “education for sustainable development” (something the U.N. has just completed a decade of promoting), or rather more lightly through taking on a sustainability-themed example in a language class, for example, translating an explanation of campus recycling or energy conservation efforts. We returned repeatedly to the power of places for reminding people both of the most common tropes of sustainability work—the material processes of our everyday lives and their effects—and also, and perhaps more importantly, for engaging people in the wonder that inspires sustainability work, that makes people reflect on what should be sustained for all people to thrive in the long term.

I was prompted to share my experience because as a geographer, I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about and exploring place. But like any canon one learns, there can be a tendency with things once learned to seem like something everyone has learned. So no matter how much impact it had when I was first encountering the power of really noticing place, and paying attention to its qualities, and what being in place FELT like, it has still been remarkably easy to set it aside and not focus on what it offers in terms of entry points to experiential learning. 

Noticing place has its weirdnesses, too: in this amazing, clearly very place-inspired meeting spot, all of the bathrooms were graced with air freshener whose location in Georgia seemed to invite considerable analysis: I challenge anyone to describe the smell of TimeMist Clean Cotton—and to tell us where that places them.

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