Why Place Matters

Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America

Contemporary American society, with its emphasis on mobility and economic progress, all too often loses sight of the importance of a sense of “place” and community. Appreciating place is essential for building the strong local communities that cultivate civic engagement, public leadership, and many of the other goods that contribute to a flourishing human life.

Do we, in losing our places, lose the crucial basis for healthy and resilient individual identity, and for the cultivation of public virtues? For one can’t be a citizen without being a citizen of some place in particular; one isn’t a citizen of a motel. And if these dangers are real and present ones, are there ways that intelligent public policy can begin to address them constructively, by means of reasonable and democratic innovations that are likely to attract wide public support?

Why Place Matters takes these concerns seriously, and its contributors seek to discover how, given the American people as they are, and American economic and social life as it now exists — and not as those things can be imagined to be in some utopian scheme — we can find means of fostering a richer and more sustaining way of life. The book is an anthology of essays exploring the contemporary problems of place and placelessness in American society.

Edited by the historians Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister, Why Place Matters includes contributions from distinguished scholars and writers such as poet Dana Gioia (former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts), geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, urbanist Witold Rybczynski, architect Philip Bess, essayists Christine Rosen and Ari N. Schulman, philosopher Roger Scruton, transportation planner Gary Toth, and historians Russell Jacoby and Joseph Amato.

Praise for Why Place Matters

“In this important book, insightful thinkers — from poets and philosophers to geographers and planners — explore one of the most disorienting results of our dazzling technological advances: an increasingly attenuated sense of place. Just decades ago, such a book would have been superfluous; today it is essential in a rapidly globalizing and digitizing world. ”

Bruce Cole, Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center; Former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

“It is not news to thoughtful observers that people today have lost a sense of rootedness. The debate over this phenomenon focuses on culture, economics, and politics, but we don’t pay enough attention to the role of place. This brilliant essay collection reminds us that place is not an abstract concept, but a concrete reality fundamental to what makes us human, and humane. Both liberals and conservatives celebrate, each for their own reasons, the freedoms that modern life gives us, but we all too easily forget that to be liberated from one set of constraints is to become captive to another. Neither nostalgic nor polemical, Why Place Matters illuminates the ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ of modern mobility, and in so doing teaches us why learning to love where we live — and, so to speak, learning to live where we live — is critical to human flourishing. ”

Rod Dreher, author of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

Edward Hopper, Gas (1940), copyright the Museum of Modern Art, licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, N.Y.