Monday, February 28, 2011


I was browsing the bookstore shelves the other day, not really looking for anything in particular when I noticed a book called 1000 Awesome Things. It's about ordinary, everyday things that happen to us and are easy to take for granted but when one stops and thinks about it are, well, awesome. I briefly leafed through the book and one that caught my attention was one of my favorite things "finding $5 in a jacket you hadn't worn for a while." The book is about reflecting on the positive little things that can help you smile in spite of yourself.

Seems to me that the idea is similar to the sense-of-place approach of intentionally thinking about what's great about your place, going out of your way to interact with those special features of your place and encouraging others to do likewise.

When encouraging others to think about a topic, we teachers often use prompts. If I were trying to get students to think about their places, I might use a prompt such as "What special feature of our region do you find yourself visiting most often? What draws you there? How do you feel different when you're there?"

Sometimes these prompts can become community projects. Historical conservancies in the UK have prompted people to think about their place by using an ABC approach -- A is for _____, B is for _____, etc. a picture/icon and perhaps a short bit of text (for examples, see . The result is a professionally done book or poster with contributions from local residents of that place. The posters are then displayed around town and offered for sale, with the proceeds going to the conservancy. Another approach I seen used is a map based on residents' personal points of interests they want to share. Similarly, a timeline -- a map in time -- could show individuals' thought on events of general interest. The 1000 Awesome Things idea could be a prompt: "think of 5 awesome things about our place" and a collection of such things would make a nice overview of what people see in their place. While the poster is meant to be displayed around town and offered for sale, the other prompt-based projects would be naturals for user-contributed ("Web 2.0") sites.

I'd be interested in seeing examples of these kinds of web sites. Thanks in advance for sharing such examples.

You know, is it OK to post comments on this blog...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lack of Snow

I haven't been able to go out on my usual XC Ski trails for about a week now. We had a big thaw last week and no new snow. When I see a nice blanket of snow, I think of it as nature in its dress whites. Now it looks more like nature in its skivvies -- some areas peeking through that we really don't want to see.

I've been trying to get a group out on a Thursday evening backwoods ski for about a month now. One week was too icy, one week blizzard, one week too warm. Seems like XC Ski season has been ending earlier each year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cachet-ing In

I've always wondered how a particular logo develops a cachet. Is it, as the jargon goes now, an 'organic' development, or is it carefully orchestrated? I'm leaning toward the latter.

Just to pick one example, how did Hollister got to be the thing to wear? I just looked it up (thanks wikipedia) and found out it is a A&F brand, not a surf board shop whose logo happened to catch on. Ah, nothing like aggressive, targeted marketing to make us all want to be seen in a casual yet carefully crafted look.

How's this related to sense-of-place? I've always wondered whether a place-logo could become fashionable and whether that would that help the youth of that area better appreciate their home place. It would be far better if they came to appreciate it, well, 'organically' but I'm not above thinking that youth fashion could be an ally. Can you see, say a "Superior East" logo catching on?

Thus I was excited by the a recent news story that Nautica was bringing out a line of clothing inspired by Sleeping Bear Dunes. I thought maybe we'd see kids around the country wearing a logo related to northern Michigan. Alas, it was instead that the colors of the new lineup were inspired by Lake Michigan shorelines -- sand dune tan, lake blue and Coast Guard orange. The Sleeping Bear Dunes name got into a new set of trade publications but I'm still waiting for the fashionable logo to come out and catch on on its own. I really don't think I want a fashion label to come in and force it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

local HS students' video

Our local high school environmental club produced a lovely video about non-motorized recreation opportunities here in the Soo.
Check it out:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

groomed or ungroomed?

I'm not talking about whether to be clean shaven or scruffy. I'm talking about cross country skiing. Most of my skiing is ungroomed, although I do go over my own tracks so it's kind of self-groomed. I like the independence of not having to depend on a grooming machine. I like having the adventure of going somewhere not everyone goes. I like seeing an ordinary place like our campus or our property in a new way, from a new perspective. I like putting down my own tracks(afterall, back in the day I was a non-conformist, just like everyone else).

Every now and then I go to our local groomed trail system. I went yesterday and conditions were perfect -- 25+ F, hard packed track. It was really fast, even with my skis that need the glide wax renewed. When I hit my rhythm it felt like I was really going (good thing there wasn't anyone else to blast by me and make me realize I probably wasn't going that fast, but it was 2x the speed I do on ungroomed/self-groomed trails). So I do understand why many people prefer groomed trails. I like both/either, depending on whether I want to feel like gliding fast or want to feel like I'm striking off on an adventure in a familiar place. (In a related thought, who was it that said that some writers make the extraordinary ordinary while others make the ordinary extraordinary?)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

involving youth in placemaking

One of the objectives of a place making project is to make your town the kind of town that people want to be in. And since one of the groups of people we want to stay in our town are young people, shouldn't young people have a role in the placemaking process?

Our city is initiating a project to develop more of a college-town flavor. I'm hoping that not only the college students but also the high school students that are likely to become local college students, are involved.

Any of you out there in blog-o-land been involved in a public placemaking project that reached out to youth? What strategies did you use to engage the youth and to help make the place attractive to youth?

Project for Public Spaces has very inspiring case study from Croatia
about how the youth helped an area recover after the wars.

I'm also looking for less dramatic examples.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Educational Objectives

Knowing one's place is part of the broader idea of knowing about the world and your place in it, being mindful of that, and perhaps being an advocate for protecting your place. This concept of having a healthy sense of place would be an admirable goal of education and place-based education seeks to meed that goal. At one time, this goal could have been incorporated in the goal of either civics (i.e., developing an educated electorate) or maybe even a tangent to health education (having a positive viewpoint about the place you live).

But it seems that according to the politicians, educational goals now are only about maintaining America's economic power globally. To get people to think about place-based education, do we have to explain how that links to maintaining America's economic power globally?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

adventure 'shortcuts'

My son and I were out skiing around our place Sunday along trails we cut with the brushhog in the fall. It was a nice day to ski. It's always nice to get out on skis but sunday was especially nice. Conditions were good, weather was very pleasant, good quality time and all that. My son suggested we take a 'shortcut' back to the house through a tag alder patch. (Parts of our property are much easier to access in the winter. Without snowcover, it's a matter of wading through standing water and dense vegetation.) Ducking through the tag alders reminded me of other adventure 'shortcuts' I've experienced.

When our older kids were little, we lived in town. Bike rides to the donut shop often concluded with an adventure shortcut back home. We'd pick our way along informal trails through fields and along streams and often came home with a good complement of cockleburs and sticktights but also with a memorable adventure.

One advantage of getting around town in something other than an automobile is that other avenues are open for travel. Ride your bike or walk to your destination and you can explore an alternative pathway and get to know the place in a more up close way. Ride the streets to get where you need to go on time, but come home on a 'round about way that connects to the hiking trail that allows bikes. Walk downtown on the direct route, but come back on the pathway through the ravine.

An momentary adventure makes you feel like you've seen something that not everyone has seen that day. It makes you feel like you've taken a break from the routine. It puts a little bounce in your step.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Make It a Point

I just got in from skiing a new-to-me trail. I knew of it, I'd heard others talk about it, but I'd never made it a point to get over there. I'm glad I did. It's a great spot with its own unique features.

So here's a suggestion for you for this weekend or some lunch break next week. Pick a park, a museum, a trail, an iconic lunch spot (maybe that overlooks a nice scene, somewhere you've always thought of going to but just haven't made it to yet. Go and get to know a new-to-you place. Then encourage others to do the same. Let's get out of routines and get to know our places better.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just a Small Suggestion

So I had an errand to run, some small thing I needed from the local hardware store. It's only a few blocks away. I had time to walk. I'm glad I did. It was a gorgeous sunny, brisk day. I got to enjoy being outside. I got some exercise. Best of all I got to clear my head. I even thought of a solution to a problem I was working on this afternoon. I wasn't actively thinking of the problem while I was walking, but a new approach came to mind as I was walking along. I even felt a little better about a less than productive meeting I had earlier that day.

It's not a big place-making activity, but walking your errands would add up to lots of little place-enjoying activities.