Day 38 of our challenge to prepare the new National Spatial Development Strategy for Trinidad and Tobago in just 90 days – and what do I find myself doing first? Reading an interesting little web article that starts with the question: “What do start-up [companies] and coffee beans have in common?”
Close colleagues and friends, the ones who don’t even try to be diplomatic any more, often draw my attention to the myriad displacement activities I engage in, apparently, instead of getting on with the “real” work I’m supposed to be doing – activities like writing this blog post! I try to defend myself by arguing – not very convincingly it seems – that what they dismiss as mere “displacement activities” are actually my way of sorting all the information and ideas I need to do the “real” job properly – and occasionally I can say that without feeling my nose growing a little longer!
So back to the coffee beans. I’m trying to get to grips at the moment with how best to embed urban design and place-making principles in the new National Spatial Development Strategy, and it was by googling the question “what gives a place identity?” in my search for inspiration that I stumbled across a nicely distracting article entitled “Company Character Grows From Place Identity” on http://authenticorganizations.com . Please read the full article yourself – it’s very interesting – but in the meantime here’s the bit that got me thinking:
“We don’t talk much about the role of place in shaping organizational identity, but the physical circumstance of where we are located as we do our work together helps to determine who we become as a company. Place shapes our character…For both coffee and companies, distinctive features of who they are come from the specific, physical place where they are grown. Coffee snobs, oenophiles and the French call this place terroir. Terroir is literally the dirt in which coffee plants [or vines] are grown”.
What a nice analogy! – and it can be applied just as neatly to other aspects of our lives as individuals, communities and organisations. People and the ways they live are shaped, at least in part, by the places they inhabit – just as their lives and activities in turn shape those places. This led me back to my Google search, “what gives a place identity?”, and the next site that caught my mind was a promotional brochure for Singapore which starts with one of the neatest definitions of place identity that I’ve come across so far:
“What is it that makes a place unique, that gives it its distinct identity? Its people. Its landscape. Its place in the world. Its passage through time.”
I don’t know who the author is but, whoever you are, thanks, it’s brilliant – and I’m going to be borrowing it a lot (and I now want to visit Singapore too!)
So, I now have much better understanding of the ways in which people are influenced by the places they inhabit – their “terroir” – and the things that come together to give those places their identity – to make them special; and all from a bit of early-day displacement activity! And what about that word“displacement”? Another question, another Google and another nice little definition: “removal from the normal location or position”. So, displacement is something we all need from time to time if we are going to understand other places and other people’s lives – quite important for planners and urban designers really!
Now back to the real work – once I’ve made myself a nice cup of coffee…