Friday, July 1, 2011

you know you're in...

i'm kind of obsessed with place; you may have noticed. but it occurred to me the other day that when i think about place and a sense of place, i think almost exclusively of natural environments. yet there's this whole other sphere of place-based experience out there: urban.

we have lots of jokes that start follow that "you know you're in/from....when..." format ("we" as collective folks, not the royal we meaning me or even we meaning my family). but most of these relate to habits and culture. ok, of course local culture is a large part of sense of place, but is there an urban equivalent to the natural sense of place? how often can you really tell where you are in the US? if you were dropped in the middle of a city, with no native vegetation around to clue you in to at least a region, and no natives around to observe and clue you in, how many do you think you could truly identify?

i'm going to say i could know, incontrovertably, that i had landed in just a handful of very specific places. not coincidentally, those are my favorite cities in the US: the ones that are so unique, so clearly themselves, that they actually stand out from the mass of 1950s development, 4-lane streets on grids, and strip malls that is 90% of the settled country here.

san francisco

new york city

new orleans

occasionally, we get things right.

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