To geographers, “sense of place” refers to shared perceptions among a group of people used to describe unique characteristics of a specific area or region. Experiencing a sense of place involves personal attachment to a community and/or bioregion. For example, I live in Corvallis and have an attachment to university here, to the people here, and to some of the parks I hike around. In constructing “place-based identity” we employ some of the natural and cultural features of the landscape to help describe ourselves. Therefore, it is difficult to think of identity as separate from place.
Geographers have used the term “placelessness” to interpret features of the landscape which are homogeneous or lack diversity across the urban, suburban, rural or open landscapes. Globalization, which is a major cause of cultural and landscape homogeneity, has produced placelessness or identity disorientation. It also promotes consumerism as a form of identity and self worth which reinforces cultural and landscape homogeneity. In response, some educators emphasize the importance of place-based education. By getting students out of the classroom and engaged with the community and its natural features, educators are instilling a sense of value in acts of ecological restoration and community service. Most importantly, place-based experiential learning has the power to motivate an enduring and grounded sense of belonging.
At OSU, numerous departments and programs encourage connection to place. Place identity is especially emphasized throughout geosciences courses, such as Geo 300: Sustainability for Common Good, which requires students do experiential learning projects at the university and within the community. Additionally, the Ten Rivers Food Web is a good resource to learn about local food growers in the Willamette Valley, many of which grow their food organically. Another good resource for learning about and getting involved in the community is the Center for Civic Engagement, which has a mission to “facilitate students’ connection to the community via meaningful service experiences that inspire positive change in local and global issues.” Also, with the creation of seven different cultural centers, OSU encourages different cultural groups to find a sense of place at the University.
Community groups, such as the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, are also working hard to create a sense of place in the community. One the coalition’s popular programs is the “Natural Areas Celebration“, which is a week-long series of events aimed connecting community members with the natural features (forests, wetlands, riparian areas, etc.) of the local landscape. Some events during this celebration in May include a birding photography workshop, guided hikes, and tours of local farms.
They even have fun activities for kids!
There is so much to see, learn about, and connect to at OSU and within Corvallis and the Willamette Valley. By connecting to the cultural and ecological features of this area, we get to experience a greater appreciation for where we work, learn, grow and live.
Below is a list of a some online sources to learn more:
Corvallis Natural Areas Inventory, history of Corvallis, chronological history of OSU, see some sweet pictures of OSU by going to our office’s Facebook Page, see an excerpt to Tim Radford’s book “Our Place in the Scheme of Things“, get a simple explanation of place-based education, and check out the placed-based learning program at Emory University. Also, if you are really ambitious about working towards community health and solidarity, read “Community Building in the Twenty-First Century” edited by Stanley E. Hyland.