Sunday, September 14, 2014

People Matter

People Matter: The Human Impacts of Planned Development, a global symposium held at MIT this weekend, was a welcome conversation held on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Marc Fried's landmark paper, "Grieving for a lost home." Fried's paper had a major influence on my work. It was the basis for my argument that place attachment was a fundamental psychological process linking people to their near environment, and that the disruption of that connection could lead to the psychiatric illness, nostalgia. The fifty years of work since Fried and others demonstrated that people suffer when they lose their homes has brought extensive corroboration of those observations, but no let-up in the pace of displacement, and all the psychiatric and medical complications that follow. This has serious implications for the future. The UN predicts that we will build 900 billion square feet in the next 15 years. As Don Chen of the Ford Foundation put it, 60% of the built environment we will have in 2030 has not yet been built. That building will move people one way or another. We urgently need this discussion of the implications for human communities, which are fragile and do not tolerate moving very well. It's all well and good to proclaim that people are "resilient," but in fact, they really prosper in communities that are swathed in generations of connection to the land. Generations means decades -- time -- in place. That can't be bought or manufactured -- it has to be lived, together with other people, and in light of the intricacies and particularities of place. Given such massive shifts as global warming and massive construction, we need an equally massive interdisciplinary conversation, based on a real respect for ecology. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us about the "interrelated nature of reality" which means that "I can't be what I ought to be unless you are what you ought to be." We have a lot of homework to do to really master this lesson and to bring every profession, every religion, every community, every person into this ecological conversation for the 21st century.

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