Leadership Blog Part 14: The Ecology of Place

How often do we consider our relationship to place? How often is it foremost in our minds and hearts that we belong to and are being shaped by a specific place? We are truly in relationship with the landscape, both the built and natural landscape. Whether we know it or not, ours is a conscious and subconscious decision to be here; here in a place that reflects the emotional landscape we move through.

How disheartening it would be if we remained so detached, so separated from everything around us that we could not locate ourselves within a particular place or landscape. In 1983 I was working at the central office of Illinois DOT in the Bureau of Design and Environment writing environmental impact statements cover to cover. My supervisor encouraged me to read Ian McHarg’s iconic book Design with Nature. First published in 1969, McHarg wrote about the carrying capacity of a place, the importance of protecting sensitive lands, the importance of watershed planning, ecologically-based land planning, and renewing our commitment to nature. It was then I realized sense of place matters, that sustainable places are integrative, holistic, and must meet multiple mobility and community objectives. Ah-hah moment!

So our place is more than an impression, more than a remembrance. When we finally find and understand our relationship to our place, we become aligned to the pulse and natural rhythm of that place, and we experience a moment of life brightness that creates the fulfillment of permanent memories. Some of you know that I grew up on a family farm in central Illinois and farmed the land to put myself through college. There is a very powerful connection to place that comes from walking and working the land and understanding the history of the many generations that came before you. Today, as Executor of my father’s farm estate, I realize more than ever how I am connected to the ground beneath my feet.

This moment of discovery evokes in us a deeper sense of place, that ecology of place where we are most awake, most empathetic, a place that opens us to our most human selves; a place where we care for others and are motivated every day to do at least one recognizable act of kindness.  Moreover, when we illuminate our reach and response to the natural world, when we deeply value the quality of the natural environment closest to us, it is then our words and actions become a conversation of awareness, as we fully open ourselves to the experience of place.

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