The interview itself appeared to be cathartic for interviewees. Many expressed appreciation for the opportunity to share their experiences on the topic—perhaps one not talked about enough. Affirmation of their experiences proved comforting. While they did not get answers on how to make a place feel like home during the interview, being able to talk about what that feels like eased that isolation and sparked new revelations.
I also learned a lot from the interviews, discovering new conceptual frameworks. For example, one interviewee brought up Dunbar’s number. Whereas creating a social network in a new city might mean meeting a lot of new people, Dunbar would argue there is a limit to the number of meaningful social connections we can maintain—the type of connections that are pertinent in making a place feel like home. For one interviewee, their experience finding home centered on the quality of their social circle rather than investing effort to bulk its size. Another related their experience in Seattle to the ideas in the book “The Opposite of Loneliness,” and how it influences their approach to building community while feeling alone.
One interesting finding that could serve as a later study is the connection of the individual to the collective concerning cultural identity and belonging. All interviewees talked about their experiences connecting with others in Seattle compared to other places, as well as connecting with others originally from Seattle compared to transplants. Yet, as interviewees talked about the Seattle identity, there was little to no mention about their individual contribution to that greater collective. The urban atmosphere and culture is the collective of people going about their everyday lives, yet interviewees expressed no responsibility in co-creating this greater culture in which they partake. They saw the Seattle identity as something they approach, not something they create. As Seattle’s population is projected to rapidly grow over the next couple of years, it will be interesting to examine how the influx of transplants will influence this culture and identity—and perhaps even redefine it.
. . . . .
Understanding how people identify with place is becoming increasingly relevant given current events today, both in and outside of Seattle. The refugee crisis, for example, is stirring political discourse about how to create welcoming new homes vis à vis mass immigration. Gentrification is another example, and how it strains people’s relation to their home and how they identify with their neighborhood. It is important to gain a better understanding of what finding home is like so that cities not only attract, but also retain residents—so that cities can focus on becoming livable places that people desire.
Planners can make an educated guess about what people like in their city, but it is important to listen to the meandering narratives of how people understand place—to listen from the bottom-up and focus on what impacts people on a personal level. As interviews and research have affirmed, finding home is an experience that will look different for every individual. Important to that experience is the autonomy in the everyday routine, finding community in people, and the sense of place from unique urban and natural geophysical identifiers.
And while planners cannot fully control the experience of finding home for people, they can influence that process and encourage a deeper connection of people to place. This includes creating spaces that facilitate better opportunities for social encounters such as shared public spaces and community facilities, diversifying the availability of enjoyable third places that cater to different tastes, keeping the city lively with things to do, and capitalizing on the geophysical identifiers that many people enjoy.
Many initiatives could seek to make a city more of a home for its residents new and old. As this project has shown, even talking about this experience is helpful. They say home is where the heart is, and talking about home would make it just a little bit easier for the heart to know where home is.