One of the oldest tenants of geography is the concept of place. As a result, place has numerous definitions, from the simple “a space or location with meaning” to the more complex “an area having unique physical and human characteristics interconnected with other places.” There are three key components of place: location, locale, and a sense of place. Location is the position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth. Locale is the physical setting for relationships between people, such as the South of France or the Smoky Mountains. Finally, a sense of place is the emotions someone attaches to an area based on their experiences. Place can be applied at any scale and does not necessarily have to be fixed in either time or space. Additionally, due to globalization, place can change over time as its physical setting and cultures are influenced by new ideas or technologies.
Place is defined as location plus meaning.
Location simply describes where a place is on a map whereas meaning is more complex. Each place has a different meaning to different people and is therefore highly personal, experiential and subjective. A particular market square, building or café is likely to mean different things to different people depending on what has happened to them (or others) there. A sense of place then, refers to those meanings which are associated with a place.
Place can be applied to any scale: from a particular room in a building to a country or region which rouses shared feelings in people. This is particularly noticeable in times of rapid political change (such as the concept of a ‘United Kingdom’) or public events (like the Olympics) where people experience shared feelings of belonging and attachment in response to an external stimulus.
Place does not necessarily have to be a fixed location spatially or temporally. A camper van or cruise ship which a group of people have shared for a period of time may invoke a sense of belonging in those people, as may a campsite or other temporary structure.
Similarly, every place is a product of its history – formal and personal – and is therefore likely to engender feelings of attachment based on individual life events or distant historical events which are represented in architecture and iconography. People may feel a sense of belonging to a particular house where they grew up or a playground they went to as a child or similarly, may feel attachment to a part of the country where their ancestors came from.
Places are dynamic and subject to constant change in their material structure and meaning. Places are not isolated or cut off from outside influences and so as people, ideas and objects pass in and out of a place in space and time they change it. They are therefore changing places.