Where can we attain a sense of place?

I’m going to keep on riffing on this whole discussion we are having about place. Wendell Berry lives in a rural area and writes about place from that perspective – the ancient refrain warning of the dangers of the city. But what about me? I don’t live in a rural area, I don’t intend to live in a rural area. Ever.

Actually, as it stands I quite enjoy my neighbourhood of Toronto. I can walk to every manner of store, a few good restaurants, and a big park. Toronto is certainly not without its problems, and yet one of the things that it does well is retain a sense of neighbourhood, especially in the downtown area. I have no idea how we accomplished this – but first Jane Jacobs and now Richard Florida – two high-profile Americans writing about urban environments – have moved here from the US to experience what Toronto apparently does well.

Does Toronto’s retained sense of community make it a more livable city? Certainly in terms of per capita murders we rank fairly well, even compared to smaller cities. The place where I worry about a loss of community isn’t in downtown Toronto, nor is it in small, farming communities. Where I worry about this phenomenon is in the vast tracts of land developed into sprawling exurbs around cities. When I drive through the Costco badlands of Maple or Markham or Mississauga I get a palpable sense of isolation – especially when I try to imagine life there without a car.

Is this just the confused gaze of a snobbish outsider? You might say so, but I did grow up in what you might call an inner suburb, so it isn’t as though I speak without experience.