Attachment to Place

Interest in attachment to place was not confined to natural hazards research. Cognitive mapping studies had repeatedly shown the significance of attachment to place by revealing the way in which the home and the home neighborhood served as anchoring points in patterns of spatial knowledge and activity. Attention to attachment to place was also an important point of convergence for the cognitive science and humanistic streams of behavioral geography, in particular by encouraging researchers to explore the emotional content of place, including issues involving belonging, identity, security, and sense of self. This led, in turn, to several wider elements of rethinking that had profound implications not just for behavioral geography but also for human geography as a whole. First, it produced a reappraisal of 'place' at a time when attention to that concept ran counter to the dominant wisdom imparted by the rise of spatial science. Second, it led to the revalorization of two concepts that had dwindled in importance in geographical research: 'landscape', an ambiguous notion originally derived from art that an earlier generation had rejected as a unit of geographical analysis in favor of 'region'; and 'territoriality', a term with little currency outside political geography.

Rethinking on the nature and continuing meaning of place within everyday life was epitomized by Edward Relph's 1976 book Place and Placelessness. This examined the lived experience of place at a time where trends in urban and environmental design were fundamentally altering the everyday environment. Adopting a phenomenological viewpoint, Relph pointed to the insensitivity to the significance of place that was causing the casual eradication of distinctive places and the making of standardized landscapes. Taking examples that included the design of tourist resorts, theme parks, malls, commercial strips, new towns, and suburbia, he argued that what was occurring was not just superficial loss of physical distinctiveness but also the loss of meaning, including the replacement of the 'authentic' by the 'inauthentic'.

The question of meaning was also central to work that saw landscapes, past and present, as media that expressed human feelings for and attachment to place. Landscape was conceived as a repository of human endeavor that comprised three elements: the tangible and physical features of an area, the record of human activities, and the meanings imposed by human consciousness (communicated through symbols). It was the third dimension, its symbolic meaning, which gave landscape the character of art in addition to being an artifact and hence made it amenable to the textual and iconographic analyses typical of art history and literary criticism. Essays by writers on both sides of the Atlantic interpreted American and British landscape tastes as reflections of cultural norms, with interest latterly turning to analysis of the meaning of heritage landscapes. Others studied imaginary, fictional, or utopian landscapes, which frequently contained coded longings for the return of vanishing elements of place and landscape. They examined the pleasurable feelings associated with loved places ('topophilia') as well as its converse as expressed in 'landscapes of fear'. Mindful of the debate over the role of instinct as opposed to learning in shaping human cognition, there was speculation that the experience of landscape could be rooted in atavistic traits, where the reason that people find themselves attached to some landscapes and avoid others is taken to have innate roots.

The realm of atavism was even more strongly expressed in research on territoriality. The works of writers such as Edward Hall and Desmond Morris had helped to establish cross species similarities in behavioral patterns, with the suggestion that ethological observations offered at least analogous similarities with the behavioral characteristics found in human society. The principle of territoriality, a behavioral strategy found across a wide variety of species, was seen as having particular promise in this respect. Territoriality was taken here to refer to any form of behavior displayed by individuals and groups seeking to establish, maintain, or defend specific bounded portions of space. While it immediately conjured up visions of aggressive defence, territoriality was more often a fundamental expression of social organization rather than its antithesis. Even when applied to human societies thought likely to need territories as a way of addressing primary needs, (such as hunter gatherers), the anthropological evidence showed that territorial defence was seldom required. Territories were rarely challenged once they are established. Despite often serving deep rooted social and physical needs, therefore, human territoriality was seen as creating a reliable background for everyday life rather than supplying a forum for conflict.

These ideas were relevant when exploring the significance of place attachments in the lives of city residents. Work on the dwelling, for example, identified four needs thought to have a territorial dimension: as a retreat that affords security; as a controlled place in which to balance residents' wishes for stimulation and sociability against their needs for privacy and independence; as a physical framework for the spatial and temporal organization of domestic activities; and as a microcosm that can be molded and ordered to satisfy the need for self expression. In addition, it was suggested that the dwelling served as a territorial core that helped to bolster and reinforce identity (perhaps by being surrounded by known and familiar things, which personalize the living space and convey a sense of the continuity of the present with the past). Ability to alter the exterior of the dwelling could also serve as a medium by which to communicate symbolic messages, although interpretation of those symbols depends upon the culture concerned.

Another subject area for territorial perspectives on attachment to place centered on the neighborhood. Influenced by ecological and community study approaches, which saw specific groups as rooted in particular districts ('niches') of a city, behavioral geographers explored territorial relations of groups in cities where there were intercommunal hostilities. Studies from, inter alia, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Belfast showed that residential segregation was matched by activity segregation to the extent that the main criterion in many movement decisions appeared to be the desire to avoid hostile territory. In the absence of major changes in external circumstances, such territorial hostilities were perpetuated through socialization. Children were taught to fear adjacent groups and to avoid their territory at all costs but, except in cases of extreme tension, the notion of defense was interpreted in the broadest sense. People might cluster together for security, but also did so for reasons that include preservation of culture or other shared values. Moreover, research from east coast US cities, which prefigured the modern explosive growth of 'gated communities', showed how the long established 'gilded ghettoes' of the rich were sometimes maintained counter to the general tendency for suburban and exurban flight – showing that territorial defense could as easily arise from restrictive covenants and symbolic displays of ownership as from walls and overt defensive actions.