Out of Place

Place attachment is one of several factors that can help a community recover from, and individuals cope with, the kinds of social and environmental crises that are becoming ever more common—like climate change-related disasters, large-scale job layoffs, or political turmoil.

In two separate studies, for instance, individuals who reported higher levels of concern about place were more likely to take steps to prepare for wildfires (in the United States) or floods (in a monsoon-prone region of India). The damage caused by a disaster can be more stressful for individuals who were attached to that place, but those feelings can also motivate people to put the broken place back together, according to a recent book by social workers Michael John Zakour and David F. Gillespie.

These findings don’t bode well for many Americans, who have never been good at putting down roots. According to the Economist, people in the United States move twice as often as Canadians. “Americans always on the move developed no attachments to place and thus no sense of historical connection with the land,” wrote historian David Glassberg in the book Sense of History. Cultural historian William R. Leach blamed, in part, the globalized economy, which has created a “vast landscape of the temporary … with thousands of floating executives and countless numbers of part-time and temporary workers, all unable or unwilling to make long-term connections to their communities.”

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