An insightful recent essay by Natalia Ilyin in Metropolis explores ideas of home and mobility, identity and belonging:
I have moved from state to state and country to country 12 times in my life, with many a change of apartment or house in-between. Like most Americans, I have never stood on the ground where my great-grandparents once stood. And as the years go by, I find myself asking, What does it feel like to stand on that ground? What does it feel like to come from somewhere? Where’s home?
I'll quote liberally here, because I think the essay asks good questions, and--on a personal note--not just because they resonate with me:
Where’s home? There’s the quick answer we all give—San Francisco!—but what’s your deep answer? Where is the stake that marks home ground? And if you cannot find that stake, how do you move out from nowhere?...We do what we can. To make up for my lack of ties to the land, I spend a lot of energy on people. But because I have fewer relationships than a person who lives where his grandparents lived, since I’m not bonded to a ground, I wind tighter to those dear to me. It’s good to have close bonds, but it’s not necessarily good to expect people to take up the slack left by the lack of a center....
We’re not migrating swallows or trail-bound Apache: we take random routes. We stay for a while. We don’t come back. We may admire Wendell Berry and nod our heads wisely over his elegant prose, but we don’t have a family farm, we have no ties to the land—we have a mortgage on a house in a town where we’ve lived for a few years....
What is the emotional toll of having no place to call home? What is the psychic result of moving for the company every three years? What is the price of a Best Buy and Staples at every 40-mile interval along the interstate? Of suburban houses that could as easily be in North Carolina as in California?
Put more optimistically, I suppose home could be everywhere, in a sense. But regardless the essay offers plenty to chew on, especially for those who purport to make places for a living.
Along these lines, check out the clever place finder function within the website of Richard Florida's brilliant new book, Who's Your City?, which I'll review here more fully soon. If nothing else, it quantifies one's own personal perceptions of place, and is a smart way to gather data about collective buzz as well, I would imagine. Unsurprisingly, I discover upon taking the quiz that I should probably leave the city in which I currently live.