|Promote Attractive Communities
with a Strong Sense of Place
What Is a Strong Sense of Place?
Where are the maples in Maplewood? Is there still a touch of eden in Eden Prairie? Are the waters in Stillwater still? Are there roses in Roseville? Apples in Apple Valley? Lakes in Lakeville? Pelicans in Pelican Rapids? Eagles in Eagle Bend?
The point is an ironic one: The natural features that give cities their names often disappear once the cities begin to grow. That’s too bad. A sense of identity is important for a place. People use natural features, sports teams, signature foods and cultural amenities to rally around their cities and towns. The Big Apple, the Big Easy, Motown, Beantown, Rocky Mountain High, cable cars—you know these places. How do you define your place?
Build from your strength. If your city is near water, emphasize that. If its heritage is farm-based or has a specific ethnic character, go for it. Even if your place lacks the natural advantages of, say, Wayzata or Ely, it’s always possible to make a town more attractive. Beauty isn’t really in the eye of the beholder. A town or neighborhood with litter-free sidewalks, tree-lined streets, flower boxes, pedestrian-scale lampposts, iron fences and tasteful signs can set itself apart. It’s not that hard. You shouldn’t have to go on vacation to visit a town you really like.
What a Strong Sense of Place Is NOT
- Strips of chain stores and restaurants
- Disconnected strip malls
- New school built on outer edges of town
- Losing main street
Benefits of a Strong Sense of Place
- Builds citizen pride in the identity and authenticity of their place
- Promotes tourism
- Encourages businesses to invest in the place
Challenges to Creating a Strong Sense of Place
- Red Wing
- Grand Marais
- New Ulm
- Sauk Center
- St. Paul’s Grand Avenue district
- Minneapolis’ Uptown and Dinkytown districts
Minnesota’s shortcoming in this area is less about money than culture. Scandinavians call the trait janteloven. It means that you should be embarrassed to stand out from the crowd. To do anything showy—like town beautification—is bad form. “There are better ways to spend money,” is the expression often heard. Practicality is a sentiment deeply embedded in our hard-scrabble immigrant past. The result is that many of our cities and towns have a distinct utilitarian character. Yes, there are impressive parks. Private yards and gardens are often spectacular. But rarely is this beauty transferred onto the ordinary city street (despite evidence that investments in beauty bring economic return).