Why Sense of Place is Worth Caring About

Edward T. McMahon explores the importance of community character, and why it is one of the key elements to a city’s economic success.

2 minute read

April 17, 2012, 6:00 AM PDT

By Alesia Hsiao


Countless surveys have looked into what makes a city appealing to residents, visitors and businesses. Cities are often ranked based on sustainability, innovation and efficiency, but what McMahon argues is most important to the economic sustainability is community distinctiveness, a city's sense of place.

"A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics – visual, cultural, social, and environmental – that provide meaning to a location. Sense of place is what makes one city or town different from another, but sense of place is also what makes our physical surroundings worth caring about."

McMahon argues that planners need to concentrate less time focused on facts and figures and more attention on defining and developing the distinct characteristics and quirks that make a city its own. Joseph Cortright, a leading economic development authority says that "the unique characteristics of place may be the only truly defensible source of competitive advantage for communities."

"The more one city comes to look and feel just like every other city, the less reason there is to visit. On the other hand, the more a city does to enhance its uniqueness, whether that is cultural, natural or architectural, the more people will want to visit." Paris is noted as a prime example of a distinct city, receiving 27 million visitors per year, more than any city on the planet.

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