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Unlimited inequality is inconsistent with community.
Herman Daly

Readings: Place


Sense of Place Readings

This bibliography includes literature specific to the "Sense of Place" Program area, which CHG defines as the look and feel of a community.

For the complete Readings page click here.

Archibald, Robert R. A Place To Remember: Using History To Build Community. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1999 (224 pp.). Long-time museum director Archibald uses the occasion of a trip to his boyhood town in Michigan to reminisce not only about his upbringing in this small village – and what has happened to the place since his departure decades ago – but to reflect on the meanings and uses of history in today’s modern world. MORE

Beatley, Timothy and Kristy Manning. The Ecology of Place: Planning for Environment, Economy, and Community. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997 (265 pp.). Beatley is one of the most perceptive and knowledgeable scholars writing on the themes of place and sustainability, and this book is one of the best publications for communities that wish to move in a more sustainable direction.

Brown, Jessica, Nora Mitchell and Michael Beresford (eds.). The Protected Landscape Approach: Linking Nature, Culture and Community. Cambridge UK: IUCN Publications Services Unit, 2005 (268 pp.). This anthology of 17 articles examines the growing “Protected Landscape Approach” within the conservation movement. While much of the book is technical and intended for professional conservationists and heritage managers, it is accessible to most readers, especially those wishing to build a healthier quality of life for their community. Most essays focus on the evolving nature of landscape conservation, which increasingly is recognizing the interrelationships between land and human culture. As such, the book urges local cooperation among place-based entities, and it envisions “place” as a mosaic – not a separate island unto itself. Another focus is the process of sustainable land management, which is also shifting – from an “expert,” top-down approach to one that involves local voices in decision making. While community-building and tourism are subcategories here, the processes that underpin the Protected Landscape approach will benefit both. The anthology includes many examples and case studies, and while most of these are outside the U.S., their findings are no less relevant.

Casey, Edward S. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997 (488 pp.). Anyone interested in "place" from a strictly philosophical point of view might want to consult this academic, dense, but well-organized exploration into the subject. Not exactly light reading!

Cronon, William. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991 (530 pp.). Few books tell the story of a city as completely and interestingly as Cronon's Nature's Metropolis. Although this masterpiece of urban history is about Chicago, the story of the city-country divide and unity that Cronon recounts is true of most regions. In addition to regional identity and sense of place, Nature's Metropolis raises fascinating questions about economic flow, natural resource depletion, pollution, and city design. At its root, however, the book examines the necessary link between urban and rural landscapes — how they continue to remake one another.

Cronon, William, ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996 (561 pp.). So much of the conversation about "sense of place" concerns the relationship between humans and the environment. In this groundbreaking and somewhat controversial study, fifteen scholars from a variety of backgrounds (history, science, philosophy, gender studies, literature, etc.) examine the ways nature is constructed through culture. While the book offers few solutions to our environmental problems, the essays certainly provide a different way of thinking about them.

Duany, Andres, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. New York: North Point Press, 2000 (294 pp.). Duany and wife Plater-Zybeck have become the Pied Pipers of New Urbanism, or Neotraditionalism, as it is also called. This popular book outlines the basic thesis of their architectural approach to designing livable places. MORE

Dutton, John A. New American Urbanism: Re-forming the American Metropolis. New York: Abbeville Publishing Group, 2000 (223 pp.). While intended primarily for architecture students and city planners, this highly readable and beautifully illustrated book is appropriate for any reader concerned about the design of the American landscape. MORE

Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books, 2002 (404 pp.). Florida’s bestselling and controversial work argues that a new "Creative Class" is central to the emerging knowledge-based economy. He suggests communities should position themselves to attract the Creative Class, because of their high income and education levels. What this group is looking for, he maintains, are communities that are diverse, tolerant, and dynamic – the opposite of many manufactured places.

Fodor, Eben. Better Not Bigger: How To Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 1999 (175 pp.). Fodor is a long-time activist in the growth battles in Portland, Oregon, one of the few cities that has enacted policies like Urban Growth Boundaries. This book stems from his research into the costs and consequences of the growth machine. MORE

Forbes, Peter. The Great Remembering: Further Thoughts on Land, Soul, and Society. San Francisco: The Trust for Public Land, 2001 (95 pp.). The former vice president of TPL, Forbes suggests that instead of treating the symptoms of our misuse of land (chronicled in detail here), we need to transform “the root of the problem” – our relationship with nature. “The ecological solution,” he writes, “is to rethink land conservation as the conservation of culture.” He suggests land agencies focus too much on “how” to save land (a technical solution) and not enough on “why” they do what they do (the human side of the question). He asks, “Can we grow from a technical movement to a social movement?” The new “radical center” Forbes proposes is a blend of science and human values. This short but helpful text includes a recipe for success, and includes many examples of people and organizations working to enhance the land and human culture simultaneously.

Gallagher, Winifred. The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions. New York: Poseidon Press, 1993 (240 pp.). This book’s title is a little misleading, in that it sounds like it would be relevant for researchers interested in the historical and conceptual notions of "place," place’s role in community building, new community planning approaches like New Urbanism, and other theoretical matters. It’s not. MORE

Gladwell, Malcom. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2000 (301 pp.). This wonderful bestseller explores a number of sociological, cultural, and historical trends and events to explain why a thing "tips" – that is, why something, like Sesame Street, a certain politician, or a new clothing style, suddenly becomes fashionable. Gladwell's analysis covers a lot of ground, much of it psychological, but the interesting thing for community building is his observation that "small things" (see the title) are what matters, not new stadiums, malls, convention centers, and the like.

Gratz, Roberta B. Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998 (361 pp.). Gratz’s well-known book is somewhat of a modern rendition of Jane Jacob’s 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in that she examines the best practices for making cities livable. She may be a little too black-and-white for some, but her voice is an important one. MORE

Hiss, Tony. The Experience of Place. New York: Knopf, 1990 (233 pp.). Hiss’s book has gained something of the status of a classic in the "place" genre; he’s a personable writer and he was probably one of the first to write about the idea of "place" in this way. Some of it’s dated, but his book presages many of the placed-based issues communities wrestle with today. MORE

Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961 (458 pp.). Although she’s gone on to write many other books on the nature of cities, economies, and civilization in general, Jacobs’ Death and Life is still required reading for anyone interested in the shape of communities. Most of her observations and recommendations have been validated by contemporary planners; the New Urbanists, in particular, often sound like Jane Jacobs updated. It’s amazing how prescient this New York neighborhood activist was.

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985 (396 pp.). Nearly two decades after its publication, Jackson’s sweeping history is still one of the finest and clearest overviews of how American-style suburbs came to dominate the landscape – showing how the automobile, federal programs, racism, and economic conditions created the perfect storm that pushed development outward, ruining cities in the process. MORE

Kemmis, Daniel. Community and the Politics of Place. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1990 (150 pp.). The former mayor of Missoula, Kemmis focuses most of his insights on the notion of "place" – what he has called "bio-regionalism." In his view, one’s commitment to the common good begins with a sense of place, and he makes a strong case that understanding one’s history and heritage is central to healthy communities. MORE

Kemmis, Daniel. The Good City and the Good Life: Renewing the Sense of Community. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995 (226 pp.). In some ways, this is a sequel to Community and the Politics of Place, in that it is less theoretical and more grounded in Kemmis’s experiences of a city that works (Missoula, where he was mayor). He includes many examples of small citizen-initiated activities that help make communities livable. MORE

Kunstler, James Howard. The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001 (272 pp.). In his usual witty and perceptive prose, Kunstler explores the history behind the making of eight of the world’s largest and most interesting cities, including three in America – Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Boston. One point is that America’s modern metropolises could learn a lesson or two from older cities.

Kunstler, James Howard. The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscapes. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993 (303 pp.). Kunstler’s first and still most widely read critique of modern architecture, urban design, and suburban lifestyles should be read by anyone concerned about the nature of place-making in America. Often funny, always witty, Kunstler says what a lot of us have always thought: many of our towns are ugly but they don’t have to be.

Kunstler, James Howard. Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996 (318 pp.). In some ways an epilogue to The Geography of Nowhere, Kunstler provides more examples of how to redress some of the problems he documented in the earlier book. His recommendations fall in line with those of New Urbanists and other traditionalists.

Leccese, Michael and Kathleen McCormick, eds. Charter of the New Urbanism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000 (194 pp.). This is a helpful primer for anyone wanting to know the history and basic philosophy of the New Urbanism movement. It includes dozens of short essays and designs by practitioners, mostly architects and city planners. MORE

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Ballentine Books, 1949 (303 pp.). There's little doubt that Leopold's collection of essays will become one of the most important books about land, nature, and community published in the 20th century. For anyone concerned about those topics, this volume is a must-read. Trained as a forester, Leopold reads like a philosopher, and nearly every sentence in this book rings of eloquent truth. The chapter, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” though just a few pages, is one of the most profound statements about the ecological system to see print. Leopold's most important contribution, “The Land Ethic,” argues that humans must shift their relationship to nature from a purely economical model to an ethical connection, best described in this famous line: “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” In many ways, he anticipated the development of what's come to be called environmental ethics. Read and relish this beautiful book, and find ways to apply Leopold's prophetic words to your activities.

Lippard, Lucy R. The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New York: The New Press, 1997 (328 pp.). Lippard has long been one of our best and most prolific cultural observers, mostly in the realm of art criticism. Lure of the Local is a dense and challenging book that begins by exploring the notion of place – specifically, the "local" – in order to suggest how art can contribute to our understanding of community. MORE

Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2005 (334 pp.). Louv's book is already something of a classic among environmental and place-making organizations. He explains with facts, personal anecdotes, and many other stories why children need nature. Beyond their individual benefits, however, Louv illustrates how connecting youth to wilderness also helps create a healthier community and better quality of life for everyone. A must-read for any parent, teacher, or community activist.

Marshall, Alex. How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Road Not Taken. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000 (243 pp.). This is both a frustrating and invigorating book, one that has insightful observations to make about the nature of place-making (mostly related to transportation), but which is too disparaging of others’ attempts to create community in their own way. MORE

Masumoto, David Mas. Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm. New York: Harper Collins, 1995 (233 pp.). Masumoto’s lyrical treatise uses his peach farm in California as a metaphor for the increasingly commodified nature of community. Just as peaches and other foods are becoming more mass-produced and plastic, so are our towns. The author suggests we create "microbrewed communities," which, like microbrewed beer, celebrate uniqueness and distinctiveness, unlike the national watered-down but familiar brands. A wonderful book!

McHarg, Ian. Design with Nature. Philadelphia: Natural History Press, 1969 (198 pp.). One of the forerunners of ecological planning, McHarg demonstrates in this classic book how communities can save their natural, historical, and built heritage, at the same time they enhance economic development. Design with Nature includes both philosophical arguments and practical case studies that feature many maps and other visual demonstrations.

Merchant, Carolyn. American Environmental History: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007 (489 pp.). A large question any "sense of place" program encounters is, "Why do we think and act the way we do toward nature?" In addition to writers such as Donald Worster and William Cronon, Merchant has been one of the leading scholars exploring this question through the lens of history. In this new book, she provides a concise overview of the cultural, legal, scientific, and moral forces that have shaped our attitudes toward the land. The book would be of help to readers who want a brief but solid review, as fewer than half of its pages are narrative — the remainder being a glossary, timeline, and many different bibliographies. Students of environmental history will probably know most of this story already, but for others Merchant's book provides a good introduction to the topic.

Mumford, Lewis. The City in History. San Diego: Harvest, 1961 (657 pp.). Mumford’s sprawling, comprehensive, and insightful look at the history of urban forms throughout the world is a "must read" for any student of community. His comments concerning the effects of the car and transportation systems on downtowns and their expanding suburbs are most prophetic.

Nabhan, Gary Paul and Stephen Trimble. The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994 (184 pp.). We love this book and just about everything Gary Nabhan, an esteemed ethnobotanist, writes. The theme here is summed up in the title: children need wildness and exposure to the natural world for their own development and to better understand their role in the wider community. Great stuff.

Quinn, Bill. How Wal-Mart Is Destroying America (and the World): And What You Can Do About It. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2000 (171 pp.). A bit on the "rant" side (to say the least!), Quinn’s short but provocative book is one of the essential manuals for activists trying to keep the Big Box from Arkansas our of their communities. Quinn’s passionate little book is filled with references to assist local planning committees.

Roseland, Mark. Toward Sustainable Communities: Resources for Citizens and Their Governments. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 1998 (240 pp.). This new edition of Roseland’s previous volume of nearly the same title provides many more resources for communities, especially since the advent of the Internet and the wealth of information one can find there. Filled with best practices from around the world, Toward Sustainable Communities is an excellent beginner’s tool for places looking to develop more sustainable policies. MORE

Rybczynski, Witold. City Life. New York: Touchstone, 1995 (256 pp.). Popular urbanist Rypczynski begins with a question: "Why don't American cities look like those in Europe, with their history, culture, and livability?" This accessible history – for lay readers, not architectural historians – argues that cities here once did express the "civic arts" one finds in Europe. Eventually, though, practical and commercial concerns, combined with modernism in architecture and the flight to the suburbs, created the sprawling metropolitan area. Rybczynski suggests a new kind of city is emerging, one that combines the best of both urban and suburban environments.

Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. New York: Penguin Books, 1987 (256 pp.). You'll never look at a house in quite the same way after reading this wonderful study. Rybscynski, who teaches urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a very readable history of how our quest for comfort has been responsible for most of the changes in our homes. Both social history and architectural history, the book's theories could be applied to community-making on a larger scale.

Rypkema, Donovan. The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader’s Guide. Washington, D.C.: The National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1994 (131 pp.). Rypkema provides a wonderfully readable and practical guide for historic preservation activists who need ammunition to keep city councils and developers from ripping down old structures. Let’s hope more city councils hear the arguments in this book. MORE

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day. New York: Paragon House, 1989 (338 pp.). Oldenburg’s interesting and lively look at what he terms "third places" – those spaces where citizens meet in informal ways – has become one of the classics of place-based literature, and with good reason. The eradication of third places goes a long way toward explaining the shape of our communities. MORE

Sanders, Scott Russell. Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993 (203 pp.). This is a beautiful narrative about trying to establish a sense of place by not bowing to the great God restlessness. Sanders argues that we need to stay with our environments, stay with our beliefs, and stay with our families. We’re fans of just about everything Sanders writes, most of which deals with community and place-based issues.

Whyte, William. The Last Landscape. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1970 (428 pp.). Author of The Organization Man and well-known treatises on urban planning, Whyte turns his attention here to open space and the natural world. Unfortunately, many of the negative outcomes he forecast have come true, whereas the optimism he expresses for some land-use issues is hard to muster today.

Worster, Donald, ed. The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988 (341 pp.). A great deal of today's discussion about “sense of place” concerns humankind's relationship to the environment. Since the 1980s that relationship has been the focus of historians examining the evolution of our changing attitudes toward nature—in different times, different cultures, different belief systems, different methodologies. Worster is one of the recognized spokespersons in this field, and The Ends of the Earth is one of the first collections that discusses environmental history in general, and then demonstrates how a historical perspective helps to further our understanding of the environmental forces at work today.

Worster, Donald. Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994 (505 pp.). Our understanding of place, nature, the environment, and related concepts is grounded in historical, philosophical, social, and theological views, and historian Worster does an excellent job of presenting and explaining them in this indispensable work. Worster shows how our relationship to nature has historically swayed between the extremes of the transcendental-utilitarian pendulum, and he convincingly demonstrates how these different attitudes influence public, corporate, technological, and political policies. Worster is primarily interested in “ecology,” and by exploring its development historically and conceptually, he provides an interesting overview of the science that frames ecological progress, as well as the values systems that underpin experimentation itself. Anyone interested in ecological studies, especially the modern-day focus on biodiversity, sustainability, and "sense of place," should consult this important book. Along with Nash's Wilderness and the American Mind, Worster's study is an essential look at the topic.