Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How To Love Where You Live

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, by Sara Jewell.

The Oxford Walking Club meets every Monday night at 6 pm at the gazebo.
Waiting in line at the bank one summer afternoon, I overheard an older man ahead of me complain about the flower baskets hanging all around the Town of Oxford.
“What do we need those for, anyway?” he growled. “A waste of money.”
It would have been a waste of time to point out to him that they make the town look good; welcoming and friendly as well as pretty. Who wants to live in, or visit, an ugly, rundown town? Would anyone be proud of that?
This man’s griping came back to me as I read Melody Warnick’s new book, This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. I picked it up after Cumberland Public Libraries posted the book cover on its Instagram account, figuring I could skim read it for a column. 

Turns out, I can’t put the book down. This Is Where You Belong is fascinating and although its focus is the United States, it absolutely applies to Oxford and Pugwash and Amherst and Halifax. In fact, I’m saying this book should be read by every mayor, councillor, and community leader in every municipality. If each person who reads this book puts one idea into action, we’d notice a huge difference in our towns, and in their residents.
The book focuses on what Warnick calls place attachment and its role in whether we like where we live: “It’s the way we imbue places with meaning and memory,” she writes. “When people help create their place, they see themselves reflected in it.”
Warnick provides personal stories, statistics, and actual Love Where You Live experiments to demonstrate ten basic place attachment behaviours: Walk more; Buy local; Get to know your neighbours; Do fun stuff; Explore nature; Volunteer; Eat local; Become more political; Create something new; Stay loyal through hard times.
She stresses that being involved creates connection with a place; people are less likely to complain there’s nothing to do if they are participating in community events.
According to Warnick, the most challenging question is: “What would I show off to tourists?” She says this is where small towns can flounder.

As I read this book, examples of how the Town of Oxford has created opportunities for place attachment kept popping into my head. Walk more with the Oxford Walking Club; Get to know your neighbours (past and present) through Eleanor Crowley’s historic walking tours of Oxford; Explore nature using the TransCanada Trail; and Do fun stuff at the Strawberry Festival.
Not to mention this: The gazebo in the middle of town that outraged many people as a waste of money, a target for vandals, and an insult to the old building  that used to be there? It’s one of those little things that make people feel satisfied with their town. 
Warnick calls this fact a bombshell: “The three qualities with the strong correlation to place attachment were social offerings, aesthetics and openness.” Basically, when residents think their town offers stuff to do, looks nice, and is welcoming, they feel most attached to it. So, kudos, Oxford, for hanging flower baskets, creating a town square and organizing festivals; those are exactly the kinds of things that make (most) people love where they live.

Hopefully as you read this column, you realized how much your own community -- wherever you live -- does to try and provide a sense of identity and connection to where you live. The examples I provided are limited only to Oxford because of my word count for the newspaper, and it's not even a complete list. 

I can't stress enough that community leaders everywhere should read this book. Ten chapters and every one of them is full of ideas and inspiration and encouragement. I'm not done the book but I was up at 3 a.m. for a mug of warm milk and read the chapter on volunteering. Our county is full of wonderful, committed volunteers who do so much to keep events and organizations running: food banks, Communities In Bloom, the animal shelter and other animal rescue groups, festivals (like the winter festival this weekend in Amherst - yay, winter!), the Cumberland County Exhibition, and breakfasts/suppers. Our communities, large and small, couldn't survive let alone thrive without volunteers.
I'm going to keep reading and being inspired (so glad I created the authors' event this weekend in Oxford - doing my part to create place attachment), and I hope you'll get on this bandwagon as well.

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