Sense of Place

Theme Definition: Sense of place is the sense of belonging to a neighbourhood or city that leads to environmental stewardship of that place. It encompasses appreciation for the places, people, and other beings around us. Experiencing natural spaces, participation in sustainable activities, and active stewardship can enhance Sense of Place.

Suggested Sub-Themes: community expression of sustainability goals, community clean-ups, celebration of community success, “placemaking” to create a local sense of belonging, connecting residents to local services and amenities.

When people care about where they live, they may become better environmental stewards for their area. This sense of local pride can be built by community features, events and even people. For example:

  • Attachment to historic places in Paris, France support stewardship
  • The annual Tulip Festival brings people together in Ottawa, Canada
  • Teenager Brooke Henderson’s PGA win made all of Smiths Falls very proud

Below, you will find a discussion paper on Sense of Place.


Certain places hold special meaning both for those who live there and for many of those who visit. Such a feeling may come from the natural environment of the place but it is more likely to be a mix of many natural and cultural features. Fundamental to a sense of place is a strong feeling of authentic human attachment and belonging and this fosters human engagement and commitment.

In a sustainable urban region a common understanding of the place of people in the urban and rural environment and respect for the delicate balance within it is essential. Ottawa is not only home to its residents but it is also the National Capital for all Canadians. A strong sense of place is important for both a sustainable urban region and for a truly national capital.


Fundamental to a sense of place is a bioregional perspective, which situates us within the natural world and recognizes it as an extension of ourselves. Such a perspective requires both knowledge about the parts and a sense of the whole. Much can be learned in this regard from our aboriginal peoples who are imbued with this perspective.

We need to know our bioregion with its own watershed, soil, climate, plant types, animals and history and to understand its rhythms, its potential and its limits. Mapping our place also helps us to relate to the natural surroundings. Those who develop intimacy with a place over time are apt to take responsibility for it and assure its long term health.

Supportive of this perspective are our educational institutions, parks, bike and nature paths, protected areas, nature museums as well as numerous community based organizations such as guides, scouts and young naturalists.


There is a difference between living on the land and dwelling in it. Trying to satisfy our needs and find our pleasures within the bioregion leads to an appreciation of our ecosystem, which encompasses both economics and ecology.

Farmers’ markets and local fairs introduce us to the richness of our region and the availability of local products and creative arts. The 100 mile diet has led to the 100 mile movement and locally raised and produced food has been called “the new organic” — better tasting, better for the environment, better for local economies, and better for our health.


Sacred places such as churches, museums, galleries and aboriginal sites engender respect for the past and communion with those who came before. This connects people of different generations and strengthens our sense of continuity with the past and responsibility to future generations.

Ceremonies and traditions such as Jane’s Walks, the Aboriginal Blessing of the Waters, the Tulip Festival, the International Jazz Festival, the Changing of the Guard, Winterlude and skating on the canal all strengthening this connectedness.


A sustainable urban region includes all living things who share the urban and rural habitat. Sustainability requires a re-thinking of the place we are taking and of the balance within the system. Interpretive centers, nature walks, our experimental farm, our bike, hiking trails and ski trails all introduce us to our habitat.

Such a region includes those who have strong links with the past and those who have chosen this place to put down new roots. All have their own particular connection with the place but share a strong commitment to the future. Libraries, building and street names are part of a terrain of consciousness, which complements the geographic terrain and contributes to our sense of who we are. Multicultural festivals and developing villages within our city celebrate the diversity of the present


A sustainable urban region is built on a broadly shared commitment to the bioregion. It encourages participation at the individual level through backyard gardening, composting, habitat restoration and tree planting. It lets individuals take responsibility for a city tree, a neighbourhood skating rink or a stretch of highway and welcomes and supports our Riverkeeper to protect and promote the ecological health and diversity of our river and its tributaries.

We all need to be seen and heard and a sustainable community welcomes expression in a variety of ways including the encouragement of graffiti in special places celebrating this art form. It celebrates our poets and writers through our statuary and poets’ walks and writers readings.

A strong sense of place facilitates and engenders a truly sustainable urban region.

Elaine Isabelle

14 May 2009