Friday, June 13, 2014

A Place That Feels Like Home

There are many great quotes about home. "Home is where the heart is." "There's no place like home." My favorite quote about home is by internationally renowned Japanese poet Matsu Basho: "Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."

Despite my being completely in love with our new house, I was very sad to say goodbye to our old house last week. I didn't think I'd feel nostalgic, but I walked through the house aimlessly touching walls and thinking of good memories. It was my husband's and my first home together.  We have been through so much the last seven years - getting married, trying to start a family, traveling, busy jobs - and that house was where we went at the end of a long day. We sat in the formal living room and discussed our days over cocktails. We fought over the one tiny bathroom. We discovered that we aren't very handy.

It got me thinking about the concept of home and what that means. While our house in Lansing is home, I still think of my parents' house as home as well. I think of Norfolk, Virginia as a form of home. There are other places that are home despite their not being one's current physical dwelling. They still feel like home or at least some version of it.

The concept of home is a lot like that certain something that makes places great places. You can't quite put your finger on it, but there is some intangible quality that makes a place great. It can have all the trappings of a good city - good physical design, walkability, green space, all the good stuff - yet something isn't quite there. Home is like that. You can look at an amazing house that checks all the boxes, yet it's just not home. It's missing that distinctive characteristic that turns a house into a home.

I've spent the last few weeks feeling nostalgic about home, and I've also been thinking a lot about the intersection of home and place. I'm also feeling excited about the possibilities of what home as a place means. I spent part of last week in Buffalo, New York at a Congress for New Urbanism Conference where we discussed resilient cities. Detroit is a topic of conversation as is Buffalo (obviously). These are historic cities with the challenge of developing (or redeveloping) the distinctive traits that make places great. Something makes these cities feel like home.

One afternoon I went for a quick run through the streets of Buffalo, and I stumbled upon the Allentown neighborhood. It's clearly in transition, but it's got great shops, restaurants, and loads of charm. It's got lots of beautiful old Victorians and tree-lined streets. Allentown has that certain something that has the bones of a great place. It's the kind of place that one could imagine being home.

Please choose their homes because they can imagine themselves there. There's something elusive that reaches out and touches them. The first time we saw our new house in Downtown Lansing I knew we'd live here. It may have taken over a year, but it's ours. Earlier this week someone told me that I look like I have a glow about me now that I'm living downtown. For me home means walking to work, being downtown, sitting on our front porch and walking the dogs past the Capitol building. It means seeing the lit Capitol dome every night from the living room in the parlor.  

For me home and place are interchangeable. The traits that make a good place also make a place feel like home. We all want to love where we live - both the physical dwelling and the community.  A good place is one that in some way feels like home. Home (and thus place) is, after all, where the story begins.   

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