Tuesday, November 30, 2010

big placemaking sites

i enjoy writing up my views of the sense of place concept and how it applies to our local community. i see that every now and a few of you out there take a look at what i have to say.

but if you're interested in a professionally done site about placemaking, i recommend http://www.pps.org/placemaking/blog/
from project for public spaces out of NYC
it has a wealth of stories about how communities have developed special places and the benefits that have resulted

for a michigan slant, try michigan state university's new great place network designed to encourage local communities to rebuild themselves into vibrant places

Friday, November 19, 2010

it's just a little thing really

I see that our neighbors in Northern Ontario will soon be going through the adding-an-area-code process. Soon they'll have to dial all 10 digits of a phone number.

I've lived in two different places that had to add area codes and in both cases the more populated parts of the region kept the old area code and the less populated regions had to switch.

Maybe adding area codes should be thought of as progress -- that so many new devices are being connected to the phone network that you need to add a new area code. But to the curmudgeonly types, it's not good progress. (I lived in a place as in the 1970s in which we only had to dial 5 numbers since there was only 2 prefixes and some people didn't like the new nuisance of dialing -- and this was when it really was 'dialing' -- all 7 numbers.)

Unless I'm totally out of touch with such things, I don't think we are facing an imminent addition of area code here in the UP. The entire UP is 906 and only the UP is 906. I think we still have plenty of room in 906 for phone devices so I think (hope) we'll all get to stay 906 for some time. I like that consistency. I guess I'm maybe a bit of a curmudgeon that way. (Could we make money selling space on 906 for people who don't want to face an area code change? But then we'd get so many that we'd have to add another area code. So on second thought, let's not sell space on 906.)

Numbers can represent places. Unfortunately I cannot help but know what place has the 90210 zip code. In the same way, could 906 stand for the UP? In a previous post, I mentioned the Euro-style, two- or three-letter oval stickers people use to show off their attachment to their place. I have a UP sticker on both our vehicles. Would 906 stickers be too obtuse?

Monday, November 15, 2010


With milder fall weather hanging on, we're trying to finish up some construction projects. In our case, that's an extension to one of our sheds. We called a friend to help, but he was busy with his own shed extension project.

It's not that unique to our place that we have people who are always building something. It's typical of any of a number of rural places that I've lived. But maybe there is something special about it.

Mike "Dirty Jobs" Rowe has filmed several segments in Michigan and has taken an interest in our economic woes. In a recent interview he did with a local paper, he talked about the importance of people having the skills to and being willing to do odd jobs to help make ends meet. Rural areas I've lived in meet both of those criteria. That kind of resourcefulness helps household economies and in turn the local economy.

Discussions of appreciation-of-place and place-making tend to revolve around providing public places in which people can interact with each other and their environment in positive ways. Perhaps those discussions need to include general resourcefulness of the population. So as part of place-building strategies, let's do place-based education, let's also continue our high school shop classes.

I saw on one of the network news shows this past weekend a story about a small town cafe that had a kitchen fire. The town came together and rebuilt the cafe only to have it burn to the ground due to arson. The town again came together and is rebuilding the cafe. Clearly, that 'third-place' is quite an important part of that town. I'm sure there was a lot of resourcefulness involved in that project.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

in general, it's about being mindful

Many things can make a special place special. One of those is unique dining opportunities. Wait, that sounds a bit pretentious. Maybe a better way to state it is "a place to eat that isn't like every other place to eat," since when you hear "unique dining opportunities" you might think only of a restaurant that serves up its fare on china plates in a quiet dining room. To me, unique dining includes the BBQ place I like that you stand in line to get your pile o'meat and a few handfuls of fries on butcher paper on a tray.

We were recently in a neighboring town on business and stopped at a favorite restaurant in a neighboring town. It occurred to me that instead of just gobbling up this nice burrito, I should take even a brief moment to appreciate the presentation, the colors, the aroma, the initial flavor... then gobble it up. One need not make any kind of display of all that. It really only takes a flash of time to appreciate what makes it special to you in the moment. At my favorite local burger stand here, I do take an instant to appreciate what we have in that place that one wouldn't find in a suburban strip mall. But I would appear a bit strange there to make a fuss of it.

It's about being mindful, whether it's a favorite local restaurant, a quick view of a natural feature you go by on your way to work (or maybe even travel a few blocks out of you way to see), an interesting cloud formation, the sound of a freighter horn on a foggy morning, a whiff of the river's aroma. Even in an instant, you can appreciate the special and unique features of your place as part of your daily life.

I'm currently reading "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace. One essay is about a day at the Illinois State Fair that certainly captures the sense of place of the fair (that's not the supposedly fun thing he'll never do again --the title essay is about a seven night Caribbean cruise on a megaliner). It takes Mr. Wallace about 100 pages to tell us about his one day at the fair, but it's all good stuff.

Friday, November 5, 2010

subtly advertising your place

Have you seen the M22 stickers on people's vehicles in northern Michigan?
It replicates the Michigan State Highway 22 highway sign, which in Michigan is white letters on a black diamond on a white square. I've seen the stickers and wondered about the significance of M2 but never really looked into it.

I saw one of those stickers on a colleague's desk this morning and asked about it. So now I know. M22 is the highway around the Leelanau Peninsula, indeed a very cool place. So, unlike the Route 66 nostalgia, it's not so much the state of mind of the road, it's the place the road goes through people are celebrating by adorning their vehicle with the M22 sign.

There's also a similar for M119, tunnel of trees highway north of Petoskey (in an earlier post I had referred to 'the tunnel of trees highway north of Traverse City, and while Petoskey is north of TC, 'north of TC' is Old Mission Peninsula -- another very cool place indeed.)

I think the EUP is a pretty cool place and I have a subtle statement to that effect on my vehicles -- the oval "UP" sticker based on the Euro vehicle tags. That format has become pretty popular for any number of places. An EUP oval would be better, but I haven't seen them for sale at our tourist shops. My other choice would be the "Say yah to da UP, eh?" which I do appreciate but maybe isn't exactly as subtle as I'm looking for.

What similar sense-of-place tags do people in your place use?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Marking the Seasons

What season is it in your place? Other than ‘autumn,’ would you reply:
a. high school football playoff season
b. deer archery season
c. in-between tourist seasons
d. putting-up-produce season
e. make-room-in-the-garage-so-I-don’t-have-to-scrape-frost-off-the-windshield-in-the-morning season
f. other (specify)_____________________
g. All of the above.

How do the people in your place mark the rhythms of the year? What’s special and unique about the seasons in your place?

A mundane chore is to make sure the snowblower starts and to get the covers on the shrubs in front of the house so that the snow sliding off the roof doesn’t break the centers of the shrubs. There’s fun chores as well such as canning the late season produce. Applesauce is surely one of life’s simple pleasures.
The season offers some unique scenery as well. Now that the he arboreal showoffs have cast their red and orange leaves, it’s the golden age of tamaracks. The leaf off season also affords longer sight distances in the woods. It’s a treat to see the bright red berries of the Michigan holly. It must have been a good year for Michigan holly; it seems like they’re everywhere.

Get out and enjoy the season. It’s good for your mental and physical health. Some communities capitalize on each season to encourage visitors to come and spend money. Here, other than hunting season, it seems to be an in-between tourist time – past the fall colors, not snowmobile season yet. Harvest festivals such as Oktoberfest have past, The Holiday Season hasn’t really started (the national retailers notwithstanding). I haven’t seen any towns offer a ‘First Frost Festival,’ so maybe it’s the catch your breath season with respect to tourism.