What is a sense of place?
I have often asked myself this question in relation to places I find special. Mostly this question has been to my love for wilderness areas and being lost in a desert or canyon where I can barely comprehend the time and natural forces that created these landscapes. However, more recently I have begun thinking about the importance of place as it is related to my home community of Sugar House.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Wallace Stegner who stated “… talking about the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it.”
For me that profound investment by my ancestors helped create and shape this community. Way back in the 1850s Margaret Smoot suggested the name of Sugar House for our community. I am descended from the Smoot line through my long past great (many times over) grandmother Martisha Smoot Smith. My great, great grandfather John Burt laid the rail for the original trolley system that operated in the heart of Sugar House. I often stand at the intersection of McClelland and Sugarmont and look at the original rail still in place and ponder my sense of place and connection.
I lived the first 3 years of my life in the house my mother grew up in in the Grandview neighborhood on 2700 S and Hartford St. I hear the stories from my uncle’s about how scared they would be when they would hear the sirens go off alerting of a prisoner escape because they had no neighbors. I drive by there now and marvel at the change. All in one lifetime.
Sugar House is one of those unique places that has a rich and magical history as well as a great future. Different things make it special to different people and that itself is a wonderous journey. While the landscape of Sugar House changes and will continue to change we can participate and value that investment in our home. We can speak up to try and make the changes happening reflect the investment we wish to make in the neighborhood.
Just as Wallace Stegner wrote our knowledge and sense of place in Sugar House comes from participating. Getting to know your community and the diverse voices we have here. Speaking up for a vision of our neighborhood knowing sometimes we will win and sometimes we may lose and sometimes we won’t agree. All those highs and lows create a sense of place that helps define who we are and where we belong whether it be in the hot summer days or the enchanting fall evenings
Wendell Berry once said “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”