Using meaningful places as an indicator for sense of place in the management of social-ecological systems

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Sense of place is increasingly advocated to support the management of social-ecological systems. Given the concept’s complexity, we suggest that an indicator for sense of place is needed to facilitate its application in practical planning. We propose such an indicator called “meaningful places,” defined as geographic locations to which (i) immediately perceived as well as socially constructed meanings are ascribed and (ii) evaluative attachments are tied. We applied the indicator in two independent case studies, Lübeck and Lahn, both of which aimed to integrate sense of place in an actual planning process. The case studies differed in the spatial scale of the meaningful places, the indicator’s operationalization, and the specific assessment methods. In the Lübeck case, semi-structured interviews and a simple mapping method were used to analyze participants’ “home-regions.” The results revealed diverse but overlapping locations characterized as aesthetic, different from others, close to nature, and quiet (place meanings). In the Lahn case, a public participation GIS (public participation geographic information system [PPGIS]) survey was conducted and yielded insights into the spatial distribution of meaningful places. The results reflect a wide range of place meanings linked to, for example, activities, aesthetic qualities, or well-being. Furthermore, participants expressed different intensities of place attachments. Although the indicator is still in an exploratory stage, it allows for reflection on potential benefits for planning practitioners. The resulting data can be combined with spatial information usually used in planning processes, e.g., about the state of the underlying physical environment and/or foreseeable drivers of change. This offers new opportunities for managers regarding the determination of priorities to conserve meaningful places, the anticipation of conflicts, and the utilization of the communicative power of meaningful places. We argue that the benefits for planning justify a new direction of research devoted to the development and further advancement of the indicator.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2022

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