19 January 2012

Surveying a Sense of Place

This is awesome. Alex Kudryavtsev, a PhD candidate in Cornell University's Department of Natural Resources, has put together a relatively short video explaining the value of measuring "sense of place" for environmental education programs. Kudryavtsev has recently worked closely with urban environmental education groups in the Bronx, NYC over the past few years.

Though his explanations might be a little technical for those unfamiliar with basic statistical operations he presents a very good explanation of the component parts of this fascinating concept. Kudryavtsev is obviously steeped in a strong academic understanding of the conceptual territory of place yet delivers a measured and fairly accessible monologue on the topic.

Mr. K. keeps it simple by suggesting that both place attachments and place meanings figure into the overarching concept of sense of place. He also hints at the component parts of attachment: place identity and place dependence. Identity is how we internalize a special place as it grows to be "part of who we are." Dependence speaks more to the value of what we "get out of a place," or how it "serves ones needs" in terms of amenities and/or resources that might be perceived as only available in a given locale.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the library this video was filmed in looks like my fantasy parlor lounge. Full of books, with a nice large table, a plush leather sofa, rich red carpet, and even marble busts of ancient philosophers (though I suspect one might be "place" demigod and Cornell faculty member, Professor R.C. Stedman). But that's fine. The room rocks.

Overall, the video is a great, short overview of basic place concepts and offers some excellent short clips of students and instructors working in the Bronx as part of various environmental education programs. Nice work! More common-language explanations such as this are needed if academics expect to create relevance for themselves and their work outside of the "Ivory Tower."

To give the reader a better sense of how these concepts are measured, I will include the battery of questions provided by Kudryavtsev. As he suggests, it is a fairly standard set of questions for this type of survey work. These questions, as seen below, are focused on the place-specific site of "The Bronx" but this locale could be substituted for any relevant place.

Below are two Sense of Place survey scales, one for place attachment and one for ecological place meanings. In responding to these statements, one would be asked to rank them on what are called "Likert scales" which, in this case consist of  a 5-point measure ranging across a spectrum of "Strongly disagree," "Somewhat agree," "Neutral," "Somewhat disagree," and "Strongly agree".

Place Attachment Scale
1. The Bronx is the best place for what I like to do
2. I feel like the Bronx is part of me
3. Everything about the Bronx reflects who I am
4. I am more satisfied in the Bronx than in other places
5. I identify myself strongly with the Bronx
6. The Bronx is not a good place for what I enjoy doing [reverse coding]
7. There are better places to be than the Bronx [reverse coding]
8. The Bronx reflects the type of person I am

Ecological Place Meaning Scale
1. The Bronx is a place to connect with nature
2. The Bronx is a place to watch animals and birds
3. The Bronx is a place where people can find nature
4. The Bronx is a place where trees are an important part of community
5. The Bronx is a place where people have access to rivers
6. The Bronx is a place where people come to community gardens
7. The Bronx is a place where people have access to parks
8. The Bronx is a place to canoe and boat
9. The Bronx is a place to have fun in nature
10. The Bronx is a place to learn about nature
11. The Bronx is a place to enjoy nature's beauty
12. The Bronx is a place to grow food

15 January 2012

Terroir and a Sense of Place

Again with the wine?  Yes. Again with the wine and, as I've noted before, it's essentially ground-up manifestations. I'm not even a big wine drinker. That is, not nearly as much as Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson of the Winnipeg Free Press. Having clarified, nosed, palated and, in all likelyhood, finished over 2,000 wines last year; this guy loves his vino!

Encouraging readers to "Taste the Place," MacPhee-Sigurdson suggests that one characteristic helping a wine to "stand out from the rest is a sense of place." Wine enthusiasts call it terroir, he explains. This is "a French word that strives to encompass soil, climate, geography and everything else about the land and the place that makes a wine taste the way it does."

I agree. Certainly all the biological elements that go into growing the grapes and making the wine no doubt have an impact on one sip's terroir compared to another. But this isn't sense of place. It may be a small point of distinction, but having seen how widely, and often wrongly, people use the term "sense of place," this is but another example.

Sense of place is a cognitive/emotional perception. Terroir, a far more apt term for wines, etc., is a more gustatory term dealing with the flavors, smells, aftertastes, and even colors associated with a wine.

It is when we think about or experience terroir that a sense of place is evoked. Though closely related, I would argue that they are different. One is simply the sensual story (e.g. from the senses) that we tell about the other, so to speak. When evaluating a wine on aspects of terroir, we create a sense-making story in the mind, as the left-brain Interpreter is apt to do, and use that story as an explanatory mechanism to weave both the known (intellectual) and the experienced (corporeal) information together into an integrated whole.

When MacPhee-Sigurdson asks "What does terroir taste like?" He explains that it has often been associated with European wines: "the flintiness of German Riesling, the earthy notes in a Spanish Rioja, the lean, focused fruit of an Italian Sangiovese or the delicate mushroom and forest-floor components of a French red Burgundy."

Right. And it is in combining the historical knowledge of where a wine (or any of the many food/drink examples one could fit into this equation) comes from with the first-order experiential  knowledge of flavor, smell, texture, etc. that contributes to the affective, metaphorical sense of place one develops in the final evaluation.

But this is just one man's interpretation. And I just woke up. So, please, feel free to disagree. I would love to hear different ideas on these concepts/terms.

13 January 2012

Deep Roots on The Frozen Tundra

In this week's Isthmus, Madison's alt-weekly newspaper, it is all about the Packers. The article and its various sidebars, diagrams, and other accoutrements, written by sports guy Jason Joyce, includes commentary by UW-Madison Scandinavian Studies professor James Leary.

Vince Lombardi & Jerry Kramer, 1962
Leary states that "our sense of place in Wisconsin" is represented, in a way, by the citizenry's deep and abiding love for the only publicly-owned team in the National Football League, The Pack.

Take a nostalgic trip to Packerville, why don'tcha.

There does seem to be a very deep relationship between the team and its fans. For good reason, I suppose. The team has been publicly owned since 1923.

Despite many ups and downs in the franchise history, those are some pretty deep roots. Sure, all home-state or city fans have a love for "their team."

As Leary says, "The root-for-the-home-team stance is a ubiquitous sports phenomenon." In Wisconsin, however, when fans say it's "our" team, they mean it.

"...because we're from Wisconsin," Leary says, "we have a special relationship with our state and, by extension with our state's team."  No doubt.

I'm not a strident football fan, but it is fun to watch great athletes at any game. So for now, for this upcoming playoff game at GB takes on the NY Giants, I'll get on the wagon: Go, Pack, Go!

09 January 2012

A Culinary Sense of Place

Certain beverages are closely tied to a particular place. Due to their earthly provenance, wine and whiskey come to mind. Certain foods are also intimately connected to places. One specialty item that ranks high on the list of local favorites in nearby Milwaukee, aside from beer and cheese, are brats. Sandy D'Amato, The Kitchen Technician, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is a traveling food connoisseur.

Most popular food travel destinations, from Lonely Plant blog
As a chef, D'Amato is always on the look out for what makes any given city or location "culinarily unique." Citing examples of "fried clams and lobster in Maine, po' boys in New Orleans or Key lime pie in Florida," D'Amato wants food that "provides a sense of place."

His story reminds me that I don't get to Milwaukee, or anywhere else, often enough!

There are many specialty dishes associated with very specific locations. What are your favorite place/flavor combinations?  Please leave a comment if you can think of some good examples!

It seems that the combination of fantastic cuisine and unique locations is a bustling industry. Just last month, the Lonely Planet blog listed its reader-generated Top 10 of food/travel destinations. They even created a neat little wordle from the results, as seen above. There is a magazine called Food and Travel. And a food and travel blog (unrelated to the mag., as far as I can tell). In June, 2010, Budget Travel let readers know where some of the best street foods are around the world. For writers, combining "travel writing" with food reviews seems like a great niche. Good work, as they say, if you can get it.

Memories of travel and tastes that stand out for me are a certain coffee in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, a Jaeger Schnitzel I once had in a German village somewhere near Bitburg, and fresh caught walleye from the wilds of Northwest Ontario. How about you?