GENE ROBERTSON: Recognizing attachment to place is important

Friday, February 24, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Brad Pitt has exhibited a high sensitivity to the value of place in our lives. He invested a large amount of his money, influence and time to enable the residents of the 9th ward in New Orleans to maintain their geographical, cultural and home space.

Pitt’s contributions are a stark contrast to the efforts of many financial institutions, which are dislodging families from their homes and neighborhoods. The desire to maintain an attachment to a place is akin to the desire of many living organisms to adhere to a nurturing environment.

Turf has more than an incidental attraction and value. It is more than a romantic notion. Place provides roots, predictability, relationships, nourishment and meaning for life.

I will never forget how I tried to buy my mother a house in a different neighborhood when I was able to afford it. She constantly refused and evaded my offers to my dismay. Finally, I confronted her with my frustration. She answered my frustration with, "You want me to have a beautiful house for you to comfortably visit twice a year, but I am comfortable here with my friends, relatives, neighborhood and memories."

I did not have my mother's or Brad Pitt’s insight into the value of place in our lives. I experienced professional insensitivity when we planned the development of Branson, Mo., The Plaza and Crown Center in Kansas City, as well as the many gentrified and developed places throughout the world on which professional planners and developers had an impact.

New and different is not always better. Place has a psychic, spiritual or generally intrinsic value that should not be ignored; rather, it should be appreciated more than we generally do.

Ask my mother and countless others who return to their ruined homesteads after disasters. We need places, which possess a cultural and familial identity.

We recently had a meeting to discuss the use of Douglass Park in Columbia. More people attended that meeting than had voted in the last election. They saw a threat to a body of land that symbolized their identity and psychic ownership. They responded as Hawaiians, Native Americans, South African township residents and many others around the world have when valued places have been threatened.

Most attempts to improve conditions in places living creatures call home ought to be addressed with an understanding of the value, perspectives and interests of the inhabitants.

Policies and programs related to spaces ought to be developed with this ownership in mind. The owners can be farmers, businesspeople or just long-time inhabitants of the space. Disasters and displacement efforts don't remove the need to inhabit precious space.

We are all aware of the need for our population to be mobile. Still, the tether to a home place exists, despite inclinations to relocate for employment and other purposes. Our desire to occupy our space is a powerful force. We ignore it at some peril.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.

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Michael Williams February 24, 2012 | 8:39 a.m.

A "home base" is certainly comforting, but that "comfort" can easily become "complacency". Having your own cave is a fine thing, but there is a point where outside influences make that cave uninhabitable. Americans who headed west in search of space and freedom, and all of our past/current immigrants, knew/know this.

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