The Importance of Place and Connectedness
PEOPLE AND PLACE
Place as Territory and Place as People
An understanding of place is fundamental to the concept of livability, including transportation-related aspects of livability. People live in places, move within and between places, and depend on the movement of goods to and from places. The individual characteristics of places are vital in determining quality of life. The internal structure of places and the differences between places also matter greatly in terms of socioeconomic inequality. However, it is difficult to measure what matters about places because their nature depends on both physical and social characteristics. They not only have a location, territorial domain, and natural environment, but also are social constructs, shaped by human behavior and interactions. One must avoid the temptation to think of place only as a location or a piece of territory, despite the fact that many data are collected and presented for a specific territory, especially territory delimited by political boundaries. A place is distinguished by its people, markets, governments, and institutions, as much as it is by its physical landscape and natural resources, transportation systems (including streets and roads), buildings, and boundaries. Like livability and sustainability, place is an ensemble concept.
A definition of place that recognizes the importance of location or territory and people has implications for the interpretation of livability
and for the kind of data needed for place-based decision making. We may observe—in data or analysis—a fixed territory over time, but we are seldom observing a fixed collection of people. Even if we agree on how to measure livability for people who lived in Northam in 1990, and then for people who lived there in 2001, the collection of people is different at the two times, and the changes we describe are not necessarily relevant for every person there in 1990 or in 2001. A change in an indicator might not even be relevant for most of the people who lived there at either time, if the composition of the population changed rapidly. Interpretation is complicated even more if we rely on statistical averages to measure livability, as we do frequently in practice.
The character of a place, its identity, and its people’s sense of rootedness are shaped by interactions within the place and with other places. This duality affects livability. In addition, places evolve over time, so connections across time are also important. The connection between Northam in 2001 and Northam in 1990 may be as important as the one between Northam in 2001 and Southam in 2001. One of the most important aspects of time is the considerable inertia (or path dependence) in urban settings, economic specialization, socioeconomic composition, institutions, and other characteristics of places.
These relationships can be described and analyzed in many different ways. No single way is completely satisfactory; everyone must draw artificial boundaries in order to describe the relationships between and among places. As already mentioned, place involves both territory and people. Another complication is that every person inhabits not a single place but a variety of places, not only over his or her lifetime, as is obvious, but also at any given moment. This phenomenon is due to the fact that people interact with the environment and with other people at many different scales simultaneously—in the home, the neighborhood, the town or city, the county, the state, the nation, and beyond.
It is useful to think of “vertical” and “horizontal” characteristics of places, to use the language adopted by some geographers (NRC, 1997; Hanson, 1999). Vertical refers to interactions between people, and between people and environment, within the confines of a given spatial concentration of population, production, and consumption. The word vertical is perhaps not all that evocative, but it does connote the accumulation or piling up of effects in a defined piece of territory. On the other hand, horizontal refers to interactions between places in the flows of people, goods, capital, and information. Horizontal characteristics of a place reflect relations of trade, commuting, migration, and communication. The vertical and horizontal labels are occasionally used in this discussion, although scholars sometimes use the word “place” to mean vertical and
“space” to mean horizontal as shorthand expressions of these two different types of interactions.
History is also important to the concept of place. As time passes, places change, and every place has a legacy of past events. Both vertical and historical characteristics are partly the result of history. It is for those reasons that place biographies are a recognized genre of historical writing. Therefore, we need to add “historical” to vertical and horizontal. Discrete historical events, as well as the historical evolution of cultural norms and values, economic organization, and technologies, help shape places. Transformations related to transportation include the building of railroads, which altered fundamentally the economic situations of towns dependent on canals; the emergence of long-haul trucking and industrial agriculture, which irrevocably altered many railroad-oriented towns built to serve family farmsteads; and the development of efficient long-haul air transportation, which fostered the growth of tourist destinations such as Florida, Las Vegas, and Hawaii. In some places, the rise of the single-family suburban ideal home helped to devalue older, more traditional, urban neighborhoods; while in others, urban homesteading has recreated urban neighborhoods. The events that unfold throughout history change a place by changing the composition of its population because they induce movements in and out, and they also change the situations of many individuals who remain there. The range of topics relevant to an understanding of place is enormous and so is the scholarly literature, and it is not appropriate to rehearse large parts of it here. This report concentrates on a few of the most pertinent ideas rather than trying to cover every possible angle of place.
Places as Groups of Nodes in Networks
One way to think of place, both as location or territory and as people, is to start with the idea of nodes in networks. All persons participate in economic and social networks, and move—temporally and spatially—in and out of nodes in the networks. A node is a spatial and temporal cluster of interactions and common experiences, and it occurs wherever people meet together to work, buy and sell, study, talk, receive health care, cheer for a champion that represents them, or enjoy or fear the natural environment, for example. Then a person’s place—his or her “here” or a community that he or she “belongs to”—is a group of nodes in which a person frequently spends time that are near each other spatially. We think of these places both as territory, which encloses the group of nodes, and as people, who occupy the same nodes with great frequency.
The terms “frequently” and “near” are dependent on the context of the question. A person is involved in many different nodes and places, at
different scales; for example, he or she is involved in the home, neighborhood, town or city, metropolitan area, state, country, and world. There is no fixed answer to how best to group the nodes into meaningful places. All are relevant to the person’s sense of identity and quality of life, and all are territories for which we need data in order to answer important questions. These places exist at multiple scales ranging from the micro (the home as a node and thus a place important to the vast majority of people) to the macro (the nation-state, or perhaps even group of nations as in Europe). Thus, one might care a great deal about one small place, with several interactions every day in a few square miles, and also care about a larger place, with only a few interactions each month in a territory of thousands of square miles. To repeat, the meaning of frequently and near vary with the question at hand.
There are limits to this principle of multiplicity; not every location a person visits, or might possibly visit, is equally meaningful or is meaningful in the same way as are the territories and people near to home. As a first approximation, meaning declines as frequency of interaction and nearness decline, although there are many exceptions. Ultimately, some locations and some people are “other,” or “over there,” rather than “here.” Relationships with the over-theres are often based on economic trade, occasional travel, or certain common experiences, rather than involving frequent direct interaction.
However, the connections with distant places do affect one’s own place. Some distant places that tend to be out of sight and mind of local residents in fact supply important resources, goods, and services to one’s own place, provide markets for the nearer place’s own goods, assimilate local wastes, or share the effects of a common government’s taxes and services. Livability of a place, here, is never completely independent of the livability of places, there. The spatial dependence between places of similar scale is a determinant of the character of places at a higher scale: the dependence between homes in a city, for example, shapes the character of the entire city; the dependence between cities in a nation shapes the character of the entire nation. Markets, movements of people, goods, and information, and governments that encompass more than one place create connections between places. Regional geographers and regional economists recognize some of these effects when they model agglomeration. The connections mean that decisions in a single place at one moment— about lifestyles, economic competitiveness, transportation choices for both people and goods, and environmental amenities—affect the livability of multiple other places at different scales and over the course of the future.
Our concern with nodes is consistent with the concern about time geography (discussed in Chapter 3). The idea of places as clusters of
nodes is similar to that of Doreen Massey, who stated, “Instead, then, of thinking of places as areas with boundaries around, they can be imagined as articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings . . . a sense of place . . . includes a consciousness of its links with the wider world . . .” (Massey, 1993, p. 66).
Multiplicity of Places and Scales: An Example
The following passage provides two hypothetical examples of the multiplicity of places, at different scales, that are important to people. A couple living in an apartment house in Milwaukee regards their neighborhood—their city block and a few adjoining blocks—as their place, because the nodes of home, common space of the apartment house, and stretches of sidewalk are important in their lives. However, they also regard the school district as their place, because another important node in their social network is the high school that their children attend. The school district is important even though the high school is several miles away from home—well out of the neighborhood. The couple regards both the neighborhood and the school district as their places, even though the two are based on different notions of near.
The couple also regards the city of Milwaukee and some of its suburbs as their place, perhaps because both of them work in that region— though at different sites—and the economic prosperity of the entire metropolitan area is important to them. A good local transportation system in the metropolitan area as a whole, for both people and goods, will increase their access to a range of public and private services, products, and cultural and natural amenities. The metropolitan region is also meaningful because of its cultural heritage, loyalty to certain sports teams, and homes of extended family members. The entire State of Wisconsin is also an important place for this couple in the sense that they feel they belong to it and visit other locations in the state frequently. All these different scales of place are relevant to a consideration of livability for this couple and how accessibility and transportation factor into this equation.
However, for another couple living in the same apartment house, the situation is different. Although they regard the neighborhood and the Milwaukee metropolitan region as their places, they do not care about the intermediate-scale place of the school district nor the high school, and do not even know what district they live in. They pay little attention to other areas in Wisconsin, although they do care about a region far away in the Pacific Northwest, which they visit frequently for extended periods.
Importance of Home in Identifying Place
While it is important to recognize the multiplicity of places in the life of each person, the notion of place is very much bound up with the notion of home. For most people, the home is one of the most important nodes, and the nature of social interaction and of mobility is that many other relevant nodes are close to home. To the question, In what place do you live? the first unprompted reply will identify some territory and population near home. This tendency is reinforced if the person works regularly and the work site is near the home; in this case it is common for the individual to say that the two nodes are in the same place, and this rough-and-ready notion underlies the official definition (in government statistics, for example) of metropolitan areas and local labor markets. This tendency is also reinforced if some individuals in the home attend school nearby. Other nodes are important—places to shop, worship, volunteer, get medical care, be entertained, play, commune with nature, and visit friends or family members—but it is fair to say that home, work site, and school are the most important nodes for a very large number of people. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that one or more of those three basic nodes are not significant at all for some groups, such as the elderly.
Individuals do not have complete freedom to choose all the nodes or places that are important to them and that influence livability over their lifetimes. The following description of the concept of time geography illustrates the constraints and the importance of both space and time in conditioning human movement within and between places.
Time Geography and Movement in Time and Space
Torsten Hägerstrand and other geographers at Lund University in Sweden developed the concept of time geography in the 1960s (Hägerstrand, 1970). The space-time path is a central concept. Figure 2.1 illustrates a simple space-time path, showing how movement involves changes in both space and time. From the time-geographic perspective, the individual’s choices of nodes of social interaction are functions of the locations in space and time that an individual’s path can occupy, and the range of possible space-time paths is an important dimension of livability. The path’s shape reflects the role of urban form, technology, and the institutions and regulations that facilitate or inhibit movement. A steepening (flattening) of the path indicates that the person must trade more (less) time for space in movement. There are three kinds of constraints that limit the range (Golledge and Stimson, 1997).
Capability constraints limit an individual’s participation in events in space and time by requiring that paths be in certain locations for fixed time intervals and by determining the steepness of the path when traveling outside those intervals. For example, capability constraints might lead one to devote a large amount time to physiological necessities such as sleeping, eating, and personal care, and these usually can occur at a limited number of locations, but transportation technologies could facilitate mobility from one of those locations.
Coupling constraints refer to the need to coordinate—to coincide in both space and time with other persons—in order to produce, consume, and participate in social activities. A job may require presence at a work site for a fixed number of hours per week. However, stores, medical facilities, and government offices are at limited numbers of locations in space and are open at limited hours.
Authority constraints are legal, economic, and social barriers that restrict the ability to be in particular locations at certain times. Gated suburban communities illustrate the attempt to impose authority constraints on nonresidents. The growth of spatial data in digital form and
the development of sophisticated GIS have made it possible to model the time geographic aspects of people’s lives that take account of these constraints, thus making it possible to analyze the livability of places in terms of the daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms and patterns experienced by different individuals and by different demographic and social groups (Golledge and Stimson, 1997).
In Figure 2.1, time is short term, specifically diurnal. We can represent changes over time by putting several different paths on the same diagram, with each one applying to a different year, for example. One path is for one slice of time, say the current year, while others are for representative past or future years, and each shows a different diurnal pattern. The series of paths captures changes in the place and in the person, illustrating the evolution of the life course—for example, changes in the proportion of time spent working—and also changing natural and built environments, social structures, and transportation technology. For a person who changes places, the changes from one slice to another might be more marked because they also capture differences between places.
Every brief definition has its problems, and an especially important complication for a definition of place based on nodes is created by political boundaries. In practice, including transportation planning, political jurisdictions are meaningful places for all residents, even if the residents do not frequently interact. These jurisdictions are towns and townships, cities, counties, school districts, special districts created for public utilities (including transportation utilities), and many others. Even the state and nation are important; for some persons, national-level policies are the ones that matter the most. The fact is that political units create many common experiences for people, such as common educational experiences (in school districts), common tax rates and regulations, and common standards of public goods and services provided in the jurisdiction. In creating these common experiences, governments affect the quality of life in many ways, for example, by affecting the quality of public services, by regulations, and by explicit and implicit redistribution of income.
Therefore, although one should resist the temptation to identify every place with some political jurisdiction, which is an unfortunate tendency in many sources of data, one must nevertheless recognize that political places are important. This clearly is necessary when considering any aspect of planning, financing, building, and operating transportation facilities including highways, public transportation, ports, and airports. Yet recognizing political jurisdictions and collecting data on them are not sufficient for answering questions about livability. A major feature of
most political places is precisely defined boundaries that are fairly rigid over time. This characteristic distinguishes political places from other nodes of interaction whose boundaries are flexible or difficult to identify. The inflexibility of political boundaries, when coupled with constraints on residential mobility created by segmented housing markets and discrimination, has important implications for inequality because political units are so important in the distribution of resources. An exception is the boundaries of legislative districts, which change more frequently and play a role in how places are affected by national and state allocation and redistribution decisions.
Natural, Built, and Social Environments
The natural and built environments of a place are essential to social interactions. They are essential characteristics of the place, have powerful influences, and play a dual role.
These environments affect livability directly, by their inherent quality. For example, “air quality” and “water quality,” in the sense of freedom from pollution, affect well-being directly by affecting health and the enjoyment of day-to-day living; the mere presence of aesthetically pleasing natural features and buildings has a positive effect on people’s satisfaction and well-being.
These environments also affect the nature of the economic base, the productivity of market-oriented economic activity, and the efficiency of “household production” (where households pool their resources, combining the time of their members with items purchased in the market to produce fundamental goods such as recreation, education, and security).
Finally, the natural and built environments of a place show dynamic feedback effects, in that they condition individual behavior and are in turn affected and transformed by that behavior. They also impose inertia on social change and contribute to path dependence by virtue of containing some relatively long-lived features that human activity can change, but usually only gradually. Natural environments of places evolve over time because of ecosystem dynamics, extreme geophysical events (such as earthquakes), and anthropogenic or human-induced changes (pavement, river channeling, erosion, and other effects on soil fertility; removal of vegetation; and even climate change). However, in recent decades there has been an appropriately heightened sensitivity, especially to anthropogenic changes. In most places though, the human changes are slow; the natural setting provides long-lasting common elements in the history of
the place; and these elements inevitably shape current attitudes and preferences, the ways in which people identify themselves, and the potential for economic successes. Although many important aspects of the natural environment are very slow to change, some natural features can change quickly. Air and water quality can deteriorate or improve relatively rapidly because pollution loads can change quickly and their accumulated stocks can have relatively quick effects.
While there is a sharp difference in degree, the built environment— buildings and infrastructure—is also relatively durable. The costs of change are lower than the costs of changes in the natural environment, but they are not trivial. These costs often inhibit change by making it economically impractical, even when possible in principle. Oftentimes, adding a new component requires substantial capital and produces returns only over a substantial period, thus inhibiting additions. If demolition of existing buildings or infrastructure is also required, there is even greater inhibition because the old capital has some productivity.
It is not only the durability of individual buildings, highways, streets, and other pieces of infrastructure that is relevant, but also the durability of entire assemblages. The durability of the built environment is a significant barrier to changes in the urban form of metropolitan areas that would make mass transportation economically viable. It is hard to change existing low-density, highway-oriented urban areas into more compact, high-density urban forms that would benefit from such transportation systems. Anthony Downs (1992, 1994, 2001) has discussed the various possibilities.
Structure, Institutions, and Agency
Economic, social, and political structures, on many scales influence economic production and consumption, flows of goods, and movement of populations between places. Public, private, and nonprofit institutions that mediate between social structures and individuals wield power in shaping allocation, distribution, investment, trade, and resource extraction decisions—decisions that can dramatically transform places. Large-scale structures can influence even the smallest places, something most places have become aware of when faced with economic changes lumped together under the rubric of “globalization.” In turn, specific place-based agents—in business, government, and civic associations—influence institutional performance, policy, and direction and ultimately can affect even larger-scale structures. Thus, we have again a mutual feedback process in connection with the natural and the built environments.
Traditions, conventions, and norms also affect places, as emphasized in the recent literature on “social capital” (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 1993, 2000; Becker, 1996). It is generally recognized that local social capital often
helps to produce a distinctive community culture. This distinctive culture, which affects the local economy and especially local politics, is something that long-time residents, newcomers, and external scholarly observers alike can see. Newcomers may find themselves frustrated by “how things work” (or don’t, in their view) and perhaps by not being able to fathom how things work within limited scopes of time. Tensions between longer-term residents and newcomers can make it difficult to achieve political compromise within a community, and tensions between communities with different cultures can make regional cooperation difficult. These tensions often arise in transportation decision making (e.g., choosing the route of a regional highway) just as they do when the issues concern local schools and other public services.
In this regard too, places at one scale affect places at another—the social capital in a large region, for example, depends in part on the social capital existing in smaller places within the same region. This social capital may have the same durability and slow-changing nature as the natural and built environments, but it is likely to have more in common with the built environment than the natural environment in this respect.
Rural places are especially difficult to define without using the flexible criteria of near and frequently in identifying the nodes that collectively make up a person’s place. In rural areas, most people have relatively infrequent interaction with other people and the interaction takes place at widely scattered points in space. This is due in large part to the low density of population and the low spatial concentration of work sites. In some important agricultural regions, for example, farmers spend much of their work time in their own homes and make infrequent visits to other nodes. When they do visit other nodes, they must travel long distances— to sell their products, buy consumer goods and services, deal with government, or participate in nonprofit institutions. Their children often have long trips to and from school.
However, the sense of common purpose, identity, and rootedness may be just as strong in farming communities as in small towns or urban neighborhoods. Indeed, it has been suggested that some farming regions have a strong sense of place because their people see themselves as bound together by the common experience of dealing with the vagaries of nature. “Attachment to place can also emerge, paradoxically, from the experience of nature’s intransigence” (Tuan, 1974, p. 97). Definitions of places and design of policies that affect places must give special recognition to rural areas, but as always, the criteria related to the terms near and frequent must be applied reasonably. For most purposes it is not useful to consider
all of rural Nebraska as a single place, for example. The concept of community as place is discussed in more detail below.
Place and Community
In common parlance, community is often a synonym for place. Someone may say Southam is a pleasant place; another may say Southam is a pleasant community, and both mean exactly the same thing. Yet the people in a place, as defined here, may or may not share certain elements of community in another sense—that is, the sense of having common goals and values. This type of community feeling is not necessary for a territory and its people to qualify as a place for the purposes of this report. There are many communities that are not limited to any small piece of territory. There is, after all, the important case of “community without propinquity,” as Melvin Webber put it (1973).
On the other hand, in many places a strong sense of community does develop. Often it arises from people’s convictions about what the place is not and where it is not, as well as what it is (Allen et al., 1998, p. 82). This is an example of a more general principle that aspects of the unique and specific character of a place do not depend solely on the internal history of that place but also on the relations between that place and other places. The character of a place results from “a distinct mixture [italics in original] of wider and more local social relations,” so that an understanding of sense of place “can only be constructed by linking that place to places beyond” (Massey, 1993, p. 68). Involvement in wider social relations—as in trade and investment, tourism and migration—does not necessarily impose homogeneity on places; rather it may actually help to reinforce uniqueness.
Sack (1997) suggests the metaphor of thick and thin places. Thin places are very specialized, have porous boundaries with the outside world because their people have extensive connections outside, and do not intrude much on people’s consciousness. Thick places have people who are more inward looking and are more aware of their place in everyday life. “Thinner places can be . . . liberating, and its opposite—living in a closed and thick place with a rich web of stipulated meaning and routines—can be stultifying. . . . But [the freedom of thinner places] can also be unsettling, alienating, and lonely” (Sack, 1997, p. 10). To use Sack’s terms, one might say that Webber’s community without propinquity arises when people move about and communicate in large-scale places that have thickness for them, even though the place near home and most of the other smaller-scale places they are involved in are thin.
A strong sense of community, often considered an essential part of a sense of place, is a form of social capital and sometimes an important
positive element in livability (Bolton, 1992). Unfortunately, this social capital often has negative effects on livability for some people (e.g., minorities or newcomers). Thinking of different geographical scales, it is possible that “even a large region can have a genuine sense of place as an agglomeration of senses of place in smaller localities and sub-regions [and] this agglomeration effect can operate even if it is only in the localities where intense and frequent social interactions take place. . . . Thus, one of the oldest distinctive notions in urban and regional economics, agglomeration, is relevant” (Bolton, 1992, p. 194). Here again is an example in which the spatial dependence between places of similar scale is a major determinant of the character of place at a higher scale.
TIME AND PLACE
One important aspect of time was raised in the discussion of the effect of durability of natural, built, and social environments. This section includes comments on other effects of time.
Changing Populations over Time: Movements In and Out
The passage of time not only affects the built and natural environmental settings of a place but also affects the local population. As the composition of the population changes, so do individuals’ essential characteristics, including preferences for various public and private goods and for environmental and cultural amenities. Planners must cope with moving targets, speaking both metaphorically and literally. The legacy of the past may be long lasting for some portions of the population (long-time residents, in particular), but nearly irrelevant for others (recent in-migrants, for example), thus creating divisions and tensions. Changing populations further intensify the competition and conflict that characterize all places.
Some of the most dramatic examples of residential metamorphosis in recent decades have involved gentrification of poor urban neighborhoods. When gentrification is examined from the perspective of a particular piece of territory, the process may appear uniformly benign and beneficial. For example, social indicators begin to improve as neighborhoods gentrify. Aging and dilapidated housing stock is renovated or replaced; new purchasing power leads to commercial growth; and land values and rental costs increase. However, from the perspective of the people rather than territory, the displacement of lower-income individuals and their replacement by an influx of higher-income individuals contribute to the increases in rents and housing prices. These increases can cause considerable disruption of the social networks that the original residents developed over
many years. The displaced individuals may not find adequate housing with a similar support structure.
When assessing the impact on livability of a discrete event that can be anticipated to have great and long-lasting effects, which people should “count” as the population of concern? Lakshmanan and Bolton (1986, p. 595) raise these questions: Should the focus be only on the people who are residents now? Should decisions be made based on the ones that are expected to live in the place at some future date in time? Or are the only persons who count those who not only live in the place now, but will continue to live there in the future? Clearly, planners do not focus only on current residents—they take the long view and consider likely in-migrants. Much planning is done precisely to attract new residents. Planners consider tourists and short-term visitors as well, especially if their spending adds to employment and tax revenue. Planners may also slight or under-weight current residents who are likely to leave in the relatively near future.
Some common statistical indicators actually count the relevant population in a way not yet mentioned. Consider numbers such as total income, per capita income, poverty rate, illness due to poor environmental quality, and quality of public services per capita. These data are often available for each year and reflect the situation of all persons who live in the place in that year, no matter how long before or after they live there. The indicators do not allow one to discriminate among groups according to how long they lived in the place or whether their movements in and out were easy or were under duress. The problem arises both in interpreting historical data and in projecting livability over the future. It is important to have data that track individuals or at least certain groups of individuals.
It is often suggested that there is an opposition between people and place, as a way to highlight the problem of a changing population in a given political jurisdiction. It would be better to express the opposition as one between people and territory. The phrase “people prosperity versus place prosperity” actually refers to a conflict between two different kinds of policies. Both types of policies aim at helping people who are currently living in some place and who are in economic distress (Winnick, 1966; Bolton, 1992). People prosperity policies assist people whether or not they remain in a specific place. An example is general retraining that has a value even if the recipient decides to move elsewhere. Place prosperity policies are also aimed at people, but they confer benefits only if the recipient remains in a specific place; examples are subsidies for local job creation or public infrastructure.
Changing Populations over Time: Changing Minds
In addition to the effects of in-migration and out-migration, each individual also changes over his or her lifetime, and this too contributes to making the planners’ clientele a moving target. Any description, any analysis, and any prescription for a place must take account of these changes. Some are natural changes over the individual’s life course (Katz and Monk, 1993) and are somewhat predictable. These changes of course may be functions of gender, age at the start of the period, education and occupation, or other personal characteristics. The life course is dependent in large part on the career path, a concept well known in human capital theory and other areas of labor economics. Other changes are due to more abrupt alterations in economic situation or to shifts in social attitudes in the nation or region as a whole, and these are not very predictable.
The changes due to migration and turnabouts in preferences are related to each other in a significant way. Some change can prompt current residents to leave a place. Albert Hirschman (1970) distinguished “exit” and “voice.” In a place facing difficult adjustment to long-term decline or to a short-term shock, many people must choose between exit and voice— leaving or remaining and participating in political processes that address the problem. The option to choose one course of action over another is significant, though this is never reflected in the readily available data. Many things affect choice, including the expected efficacy of voice if the person stays. If policy makers wish to retain populations, they have to design political processes that facilitate participation in the decision process.
Legibility: The Interaction Between Time and Place
One example of how the passage of time affects a place’s character is the evolution of what Kevin Lynch (1960) called the “legibility” of a place. Legibility refers to “the ease with which [the city’s] parts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern” (Lynch, 1960, pp. 2-3). Lynch saw this legibility as something that developed over time for city residents as a function of people’s cognitive responses to the number and complexity of distinctive elements they encounter, including paths, edges, nodes, districts, and landmarks. The names of the elements are self-explanatory, with the exception of “districts,” which refer to large areas in a city that “are recognized as having common, identifying character” (Lynch, 1960, p. 47). A district may get its common character from natural features, distinctive buildings, economic function, pervasive affluence, or pervasive poverty. High-poverty districts are major features of the modern city, and they are dramatic reminders of long-term historical processes shaped by discrimination, inequality of opportunity, durability of the
built environment, presence or absence of social capital, and path dependence. Their residents often do not have adequate accessibility to jobs and essential amenities.
To Lynch’s original list can be added the term “patch”—a small element of one type surrounded by other types. Examples include clusters of architectural styles, strip malls, highway medians, cemeteries, parks, wetlands, and wooded areas. Although patches can be created or lost quickly, paths connecting diverse patches can enhance the livability of a large, dense urban district.
Legibility can either add to or detract from the favorable qualities of a place, and historical processes are important in creating and preserving legibility. For example, some districts exhibit strong path interdependence, but others change fairly quickly due to population shifts.
In a recent European study, Geneviève Dubois-Taine (2001) described a system of “lived-in territories” or areas in space that are different and dispersed but connected by travel corridors. Examples include home and workplace, as well as town centers, urban villages, shopping centers, parks, areas of leisure, and places devoted to sharing experiences with others (concert halls, stadiums, etc.). These areas are like islands; they have distinctive character, yet mobility makes them contiguous to a degree, and the places and connections between them act as an integrated system (Dubois-Taine, 2001, p. 2). Travel between the territories may be by foot, bicycle, private car, or public transportation, but regardless of travel mode, the spaces between the lived-in territories are important features that help define the entire assemblage. Some writers in France (e.g., Viard, 1994) use the term “archipelago” to describe this system, although that word may underestimate the importance of connectedness between the lived-in territories.
This system of lived-in territories and connections has evolved to reflect several prominent characteristics of modern life: the increasing amount of non-work time, the decreasing density of urban settlements and increasing importance of built-up areas on the outskirts of older town centers, the desire to spend much of one’s life near open space and other natural areas, and the general desire for independence and personal autonomy. People now want to live in an “all-options-open” place (Dubois-Taine, 2001, p. 2). The poor quality of local transportation accentuates inequalities in the availability of important options. There is also what Dubois-Taine calls the “desynchronization” of daily schedules: people are on the move much more and at many more times during the typical day or week, so that certain specific journeys make up a smaller proportion of total journeys and total time in movement (Dubois-Taine, 2001, p. 3). This is true, for example, of the home-to-work journey, traditionally
the major focus of people’s travel behavior and also of analysis and modeling. Thus, the space-time paths of people coincide less often than in the past. The many different lived-in territories and the different times people live in them, along with the nature of these modern travel corridors, underscore the need to focus on entire systems of lived-in territories.
PLACE AND SPACE: CONNECTIONS BETWEEN PLACES
Horizontal relationships between places are shaped by the flows of people, goods, and information and also by common experiences of different places located in a common political jurisdiction. Comparisons between places, linkages between them, and flows between them are ubiquitous. Much of the extensive scholarly literature is concerned with modeling economic specializations and the trade between places, which are relevant for work in cultural geography and sociology that explores the socioeconomic structure, character, and evolution of places over time. The literature also contains many models of systems of places, usually hierarchical in structure. In a familiar model of a place hierarchy, for example, each place is the market area of a particular set of firms; it distinguishes different classes or “orders” of such places, with the collected firms in each order producing all the goods that the firms in the next lower order do, plus other goods that no firm in the next lower order produces.
People, in their capacity as economic actors—whether managers of firms, workers, or retired persons choosing a place to live—are always making explicit comparisons of places. In a society that allows and even encourages mobility, it is essential that people evaluating their options have access to data on livability, in its many dimensions, in many different places. The choice between exit and voice, which affects how a place changes over time, never depends solely on internal or vertical characteristics—it is always made by comparing the place with other places, places one could move to, places one might move to. Livability here matters, but only in comparison with livability there.
Kinds of Linkages Between Places
Linkages related to transportation include personal travel, complementary and competitive connections in economic trade, movement of capital, and common experiences in political places. One common thread is the importance of air transportation, which looms larger in importance than in the previous discussion. However, transportation is not always a crucial factor in important linkages.
People travel between places for many reasons, for example, to visit family, receive education, or participate in tourism or other recreational activities. Accordingly, ease and cost of travel is a factor in the livability a person enjoys. Over time, as extended families have continued to disperse, long-distance personal travel has become increasingly important. Therefore, air travel options and interstate highway systems have important implications for livability. Air travel has enabled growth of certain popular U.S. destinations, such as Florida, Las Vegas, and Hawaii, as well as many locations abroad. All of these places are important to tourists not only within the United States but also around the globe.
Economic Trade and Complementary Connections
Complementary refers to trade between producers of inputs and producers of final products. In any place, some business firms are producing final products and need transportation of inputs, whereas others are producing goods that will be inputs into final products made elsewhere. These inputs might include raw materials, energy sources, intermediate goods, and capital goods. The quality of freight transportation affects economic competitiveness, and in most places, rail, trucking, and air modes are relevant; water transportation also is important in some places. However, transportation of people is not a trivial concern, since managers, salespeople, and technicians often demand efficient travel to customers or suppliers, and here too the quality of air transportation is a factor.
Economic Trade and Competitive Connections
Most firms must compete for customers, and the quality of transportation affects competitiveness. This group of linkages is not sharply distinguishable from the previous ones, since producers of raw materials and intermediate goods must compete for customers, as do producers of final products. A variety of modes of freight transportation is especially important; additionally, air transportation of people is often an important factor.
Movement of Capital
It is useful to use the economist’s distinction between capital, as generalized purchasing power, and capital goods, as tangible products such as machines and buildings that are produced by the economic system. The quality of communication matters for linkages in capital flows, but
these capital flows are generally not as sensitive as other flows to the quality of transportation. The exceptions can be significant, however, especially in some places. For example, in the case of venture capital, the suppliers tend to be much more concentrated spatially than the recipients, yet both suppliers and recipients demand occasional face-to-face contact, requiring someone to travel.
Common Experience in Political Places
Connections between places are often created by political boundaries and a common government, even when there is no direct interaction or movement. The quality of public services, the protection of the environment, effects of regulation, and the combined effect of taxes and expenditures are determined by political places that encompass many smaller places. The inhabitants of these smaller places have limited power to affect the results. Residents of Northam and Southam have limited control over transportation decisions made in their state capital, but the residents of the two towns are inextricably linked together by the decisions made in Capital City. Travel within and between towns, travel in and out of the state, economic trade, and competition—all of these are affected by political jurisdictions.
The distinguishing characteristics, including the identity, of larger places such as metropolitan areas or state and multistate regions depend on the relations and linkages between the smaller places in them. The perceived character of a large region, such as New England or the Great Plains, results from the simultaneous existence and interdependence of its large cities, small cities and towns, and rural areas and from interdependence between financial centers, manufacturing cities, and farming areas. A large region can have a clear identity and sense of place as an agglomeration of the identities of its smaller places.
Many elements of legibility in a larger region are assemblages of its smaller places. The major paths in the region are channels connecting the smaller places, for example, highways and river valleys. River valleys and basins in particular have long been identifying features of large regions. Bioregions are increasingly considered meaningful places as more people recognize the importance of river basins. The Connecticut River valley is an example of an identifying feature that helps the larger New England area. Such a valley may present a dilemma for the transportation planner: a natural corridor that cries out for efficient pavement, yet an element of legibility that should be altered with care. Edges are also good examples,
as in coastal regions, and New England provides a convenient example in the Maine coast. The districts of a large-scale region are often clusters of towns, small cities, and rural areas, and the major landmarks are often single towns. Sometimes a landmark town is so small that it is only a patch when one considers the larger scale. An entire town may be one of the “lived-in territories” of the region. Sometimes a smaller place is important as a reminder of the region’s history. Yi-Fu Tuan referred to “place as time made visible, or place as memorial to times past” (Tuan, 1977, p. 179).
Thus, again the variety of scales is important for legibility. In a small place, the elements of legibility may be a river walkway, a town square, a college campus, a mountain, or a park. In a large region, they may be a river valley, an ocean coast, a college town, a mountain range, an emerald necklace of parks in several towns, or a subregion featuring many farms and small towns.
The connections between these smaller places within the larger one change over time. Smaller places may change greatly, sometimes with marked effect on the character of the larger region. One town’s economic specialization may change from manufacturing to retail trade or residential, with little impact on the region. Yet a rural district may change from primarily agricultural to primarily tourist, and the loss of rurality and the increases in congestion have a significant deleterious effect. The same can happen if a rural district with farms or a small town is transformed into an edge city by suburban expansion from a large, distant city by construction of a superhighway and interchange. Transportation routes and facilities can have a major effect on the character of the entire region.
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