Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's a place where people...

In thinking about sense of place, it occurs to me that one can sum up the sense of a place by filling in the statement “This is a place where people…”

For example, I spent the previous weekend in the Kansas City area, where I grew up. We crossed town to make the lunch pilgrimage to the original Arthur Bryant’s. We had an errand to run in Swope Park, we had dinner at a Mexican Restaurant on SW Blvd, we did the Boulevard Brewery Tour. We drove by the Plaza but did not stop. We took the obligatory drive down Ward Parkway. But most of the time we were in the Shawnee Mission area.

Shawnee Mission is a sprawl-o-topia. Some of the major street intersections would be indistinguishable from an intersection in a suburb of Dallas, Denver, or Detroit, especially south of 87th. But the merged towns of Shawnee, Overland Park, Lenexa, and others, have retained some of their original character in their ‘old’ downtown areas. And it is a place where people , well, for one example, encounter history every day.

The name originates from the Methodist Mission to the Shawnee Indians. The Mission is a historical site with the building and surrounding grounds open as a park. Sante Fe Blvd tracks the route of the Sante Fe trail and a number of signs designate sites of several trails that originated in what is now the metro area. Other historical sites in the metro area include Loose Park in Kansas City, Missouri, the site of the Civil War Battle of Westport and interpretive signs tell the story (we visited there, too). I’d be curious, though, to ask how many people know the history. A place where people _can_ encounter history is not the same as a place where people do encounter history. As people zoom about on the freeways each day (and residents of a sprawling city, they surely do), they should be thinking of the traffic and not the history the freeway paved over. In our small town of Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, it’s easier to notice the history.

Like many suburbs, in the Shawnee Mission neighborhoods, people can go out for a walk or jog in the morning and greet any number of neighbors. And it’s a place where people do greet each other in such encounters. I had the pleasure of running with my brother around the 1,000m pathway at a local park. Some clever park designer provided this nice, convenient way of running an exact distance around a nice park with just enough topography and views to keep it from seeming like a running track. It made for a nice run.

A Suburban/Rural Contrast
I also had a nice run yesterday, but in a contrasting site. As I ran the country roads adjacent to our home, I saw a kestrel trying to make headway in a breeze, I flushed a mamma grouse and her 6 chicks from their roadside hiding spot, and I saw a coyote amble across a field (luckily for the chicks, about ½ mile away heading in the opposite direction, for now anyway). But I didn’t see any neighbors. Not better, just different.

I’d like to hear about your places. Fill in the blank. “It’s a place where people…”

Suburban History?
Recently in the town of Overland Park, Kansas, a local fixture of a motel closed shop. It’s large sign, which predated sign code but was grandfathered in, was just moved from the site of the motel to the local history museum.

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