Powers of Place

One of the initiatives I’m currently working on is Powers of Place, developed by Sheryl Erickson, Renee Levi and a host of others with funding from the Fetzer Institute.

The Powers of Place Initiative is a partnership of individuals, organizations and sites catalyzing a new field of study and practice based on the premise that right relationship between people and the places they gather offers the potential for transformative action toward what is needed at this moment in history.

Our work includes:

  • Creating and supporting an international network of networks dedicated to the mission of the Initiative
  • Conducting seminal research and developing theory
  • Producing and distributing educational and outreach materials to support the work of people from a variety of disciplines and perspectives
  • A core assumption we’re working with is that the powers of place and our relationship with it, influences a group’s capacity to engage in transformative life affirming action

A calling question for our work is what becomes possible when we are in intentional relationship with the powers of place?

One of the early images we’ve used to guide our work is this:
Chart showing the connections between Man-made and natural environments, and ancestry and activities

You can get an overview in our introduction Powers of Place Introduction.

What I’m most interested in is how we use the power of place to increase our individual and collective resilience to navigate in these times. Whew — big words.

When I look out at the channel from Cortes Island at the northern tip of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, I begin to settle. I begin to calm down. The same thing happens to me when I walk the trails of Windhorse Farms in Nova Scotia. Or when I watch a sunset from the big rocks of Kufunda in Zimbabwe. These places vibrate in my being and help me return to who I am.

While I was on Cortes earlier this week, at Hollyhock, I began thinking about Christopher Alexander’s A Timeless Way of Building where he develops the fundamentals of Pattern Langauge. He talks about how when we come into a room we know if it is alive. He goes on to speak of how it isn’t simply the existence of doors and windows and walls, but their relationship to each other. Thinking of this, I stood on the Hollyhock deck looking out at the islands in the foreground and mountains in the distance, with water closeby, and I started wondering if there are particular geographic features which begin to make some places seem more alive.

What’s the mixture here? How does the fundamental pattern of Hollyhock contribute to its aliveness? How much of the good energy of so many people who have been there contributes? And what of my own good memories of being there over many years? Why is it that I settle more easily and more quickly there than when walking the streets of downtown Seattle?

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4 thoughts on “Powers of Place”

  1. Bob, I feel the same sense of aliveness, and of being in place, when I visit a little rustic resort on Marrowstone Island, WA. I stand on a wooden deck, looking out across the waters of Oak Bay to the Olympic Penninsula with the peaks of the Olympics rising over everything.

    I think it has something to do with fractals, repeating patterns at different scales. I read somewhere that nature is based on fractals and we’re deeply wired to feel comfortable with them. The kind of houses that people consistently pick out of a variety of homes have fractal patterns built into them. Square or rectangular windows, for example, that are broken into smaller squares or rectangles, pattern repeating at smaller scale.

    In nature we see patterns repeating at smaller and larger scales all the time. Waves repeating as wavelets repeating as ripples. Mountain peaks similar in shape but of differnt sizes. Trees that branch and branches that branch …

    Also, I think proximity to the ocean and the rythmn of the tide — in…, …out; in…, out…, … resonates deeply within us, and is soothing. I can sit on the deck of my Beach Cottage on Marrowstone and just feel that tide tugging at old watery me. And I feel a part of it all.

  2. “nature based on fractals and we’re deeply wired to feel comfortable with them.” That’s very intriguing, Bruce. I wonder what work has been done on Pattern Language and Fractals…

  3. See Alexander’s paper, New Concepts in Complexity Theory here (http://www.livingneighborhoods.org/library/complexity.pdf), which builds on his Nature of Order series, and is pretty close to the direction you’re looking for, particularly in the Levels of Scale property/transformation.
    It was refreshing to come upon your blog (forgot exactly how I got here and I’m very interested in learning more and following your work on the Power of Place.

    1. Hi Ken,

      Thanks for coming by. The link in your post does not work — could you give me the right one? I would love to see that paper!

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AND, it is challenging to bring people with different perspectives, experience, values and beliefs into the same room and have more than rhetoric, stoney silence, posturing and mind-numbing arguments.

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