Everyone deserves Sanctuary a place to go where you are
Art offers Sanctuary to everyone willing
to open their hearts as well as their eyes
From “Art Sanctuary,” by Nikki Giovanni
Can a sanctuary be placemaking? Placemaking is more associated with fun, social opportunities. For some of us, there are limits to how much fun and social we really want. As a claustrophobic, card-carrying introvert, I am most comfortable in places that are quiet and uncluttered. Artprize? Too much. Loud crowded restaurant? No thanks. Placemaking may more typically be thought of as connecting with others, but it can also be about connecting with ourselves.
These are common guiding principles for making good places (source). I think the list is too passive (it needs “opportunities for active engagement or participation" for example, and “ice cream” wouldn’t hurt either), but it’s a place to start.
1. Protection from traffic
2. Protection from crime
3. Protection from the elements
4. A place to walk
5. A place to stop and stand
6. A place to sit
7. Things to see
8. Opportunities for conversations
9. Opportunities for play
11. Opportunities to enjoy good weather
12. Aesthetic quality
Spaces with these qualities don’t exclude our inner selves. In fact, only one of the 12 would require another person. But you see very little in placemaking literature about solo or quiet activities. We need places that allow us to quiet our minds, to connect with ourselves, to think.
We are all familiar with the idea of nature’s spiritual and restorative possibilities (remember your Emerson and Thoreau?), but that’s not a good fit for everyone. A contemplative place could also look like this:
Or whatever you consider a restful place – an art museum, a yoga class, a library, a place of worship.
This is not to say that we can’t feed our inner selves with a group, or in conversation. A community of people with shared interests, such as a book club, or a compatible faith or spiritual community, can nurture a quiet mind. My town used to have a weekly taize gathering. Taize is very meditative, repetitive a capella singing or chanting. A cross between a mantra and a Gregorian chant. I loved it, even though I can’t sing for beans. Singing taize requires you to quiet your mind and focus on the chant. Taize is the closest I’ve ever been to successful meditation.
Taize or a book club is an opportunity for active engagement, but is it placemaking? Sure. Placemaking isn’t just about physical assets. The place where your book club is held is less important than the opportunity to join a book club. Most of us would not move to a community with a great trail system but lousy schools, or an awesome brew pub but no grocery store. The schools and the grocery store may not be "places" as defined above, but they contribute to quality of life. They make the community livable.
If placemaking is about quality of life, it needs to include our inner lives, not just our social lives. A physical place for rest, reflection, remembrance, contemplation, and if we're lucky, opportunities to engage in activities that important to us, whether that's a solo kayaking opportunity or singing badly with a group. As the poem above says, a place to open our hearts as well as our eyes. So I’m willing to make the leap and say that “opportunities for quiet and reflection” should be #13 on our list above. Right before "opportunities for active engagement and participation," and "opportunities for ice cream."
As always, thank you for reading and please add a comment if you are inclined. You can subscribe to receive blog posts by email at the bottom of any page on www.ordinaryvirtues.com. Thanks to Lynne Scheible for planting the seed for this post.