Email Updates

Enter your email address to receive updates and previews.

Why Place Matters 

Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America

Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister, editors

Why Place Matters
February 2014 ~ Cloth ~ $23.99
ISBN-10: 1-59403-716-7
ISBN-13: 978-1-59403-716-0
Order from Amazon.
Order from Barnes & Noble.

Discussion on NBC’s Press:Here

Part of our New Atlantis Books series. Buy online today! (Amazon, Barnes & Noble)

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

Cities are the crucibles of modern civilization. This unique and thought-provoking collection of essays will be crucial for helping anyone who cares about cities understand how they do or do not meet human needs in this new century. The contributors to Why Place Matters span the political spectrum and often critique one another’s work, all in an accessible and relevant way. Cosmopolitanism and cultural homogenization are debated alongside new urbanism and civic engagement, in essays that will both challenge and comfort readers. I will refer to this collection again and again.

— Rod Gould
City Manager, Santa Monica, California

“In our age of increasing rootlessness and digital disembodiment, this splendid book shows us how to think our way back, practically and philosophically, to the solid ground of place — the home, the neighborhood, and the city.”

— Steven Lagerfeld
Editor, The Wilson Quarterly

“This book is a major contribution to the burgeoning intellectual effort to loosen the grip of virtual things on the imagination and restore the more profoundly human and meaningful impact of real things, real places. Yes, place matters. McClay and McAllister have assembled a brilliant and diverse group of scholars and thinkers to illuminate this deep truth in a variety of fascinating and convincing ways.”

— Marc K. Landy
Professor of Political Science, Boston College

“In Why Place Matters, editors Wilfred McClay and Ted McAllister offer a welcomed contribution to thinking more deliberately about place and its relation to human flourishing.... Every chapter is itself worth the price of the compendium, and the cross-disciplinary research of the various articles redounds to the benefit of the reader.... Why Place Matters is an excellent resource and a hopeful sign in a time of de rigueur excess and self-indulgence.”

— William Boyce
Fare Forward, August 28, 2014

Why Place Matters is a revelation — and a book that needed to be written.... With each chapter, I kept thinking ‘Can the next one again be this good? Can they explore yet another facet of the argument for place — so effectively?’ And with each chapter I was delighted and amazed.... I also love that not a single essay was burdened with the kind of jargon and insider’s language that makes some academic writing and a lot in the name of planning inscrutable.”

— William Hosley
Founder, Terra Firma Northeast
Former Executive Director, New Haven Museum

Why Place Matters provides resources that challenge, educate, and encourage anyone disquieted by a felt loss of attachment to consider seriously how place might be revived and our civic life reinvigorated.”

— Jonathan Coppage
The American Conservative, November/December 2014

To their credit, these essayists — among them academics of various disciplines, editors, nonprofit executives, and poets — do not advocate some kind of thin nostalgia.... They know a simple appeal to loyalty cannot make our places the kind where you'd actually want to live. They deploy varied experiences and skills to project a hopeful future where love of place corrects our modern tendencies to seek escape from responsibility and accountability.”

— Collin Hansen
Books and Culture, November/December 2014

“Each intriguing essay covers a unique component or theory in American society. In some cases, the topics deal with people, places and things that we simply take for granted in our modern world.... [Why Place Matters] contains fascinating and controversial passages that will intrigue some readers and likely frustrate others. At the same time, these essays consistently challenge conventional thinking on the modern concept of ‘place.’ That’s a good thing, and anything that makes you think does matter.”

— Michael Taube
Washington Times, January 4, 2015

“Being embodied creatures means that we are also ‘implaced’ creatures. We must always be somewhere. Whether that somewhere is a home, a school, a city, a farm, a wilderness, a suburb, a bedroom, or a boardroom, we are attached to places. Why Place Matters is a collection that reminds us of this point precisely because, oddly enough, even implaced creatures can forget they’re placed.... There are multiple suggestions — some abstract, some practical — given in Why Place Matters, but a common concern is that we reduce cities to places of commerce and industry at our own peril.”

— Doug Sikkema
Cardus, April 24, 2014

This “remarkable new book edited by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister functions as a sort of rebuttal to [Thomas] Friedman’s vision of a world where location is irrelevant.... McClay and McAllister are right to defend special places as provocatively as they do — as spaces where ‘public virtues’ are cultivated and American character is molded and shaped for the future.”

— Thomas A. Shakely
Town and Gown, March 27, 2014

“Permeating the whole book is a respect for the organic nature of man.... It is a refreshing outlook that has long been abandoned by social planners and economists who see all things through an economic prism without any connection to society and place. In Why Place Matters, one finds a rare appreciation for beauty, providence and stewardship which are essential to making the concept of place attractive.”

— John Horvat II
Spero News, June 27, 2014

One of the ten best books in “urban planning, design, and development” from 2014. “A distinguished crew of writers.... The essays are never overly difficult, even when the book's essays dare to take on subject matters that have confused readers and students of urbanism for as long as anyone can remember.

December 8, 2014

A wide-ranging collection"; Joseph Amatos essay in Why Place Matters crackles and sparks with fertile ideas that help to illuminate matters of place, environment, region, and associated matters; Dana Gioia makes a strong case for L.A. as a viable and influential model for twenty-first century urban development.

— John E. Miller
Professor Emeritus of History, South Dakota State University
Middle West Review, Fall 2014