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Category Archives: place

“Far from being a child of nature, the West was actually given birth by modern technology and bears all the scars of that fierce gestation, like a baby born of an addict.”

– Donald Worster


“The seashore is an edge, perhaps the only true edge in the world whose borders are otherwise mostly political fictions, and it defies the usual idea of borders by being unfixed, fluctuant, and infinitely permeable. The seashore is the place that is no place, sometimes solid land or, rather, sand, sometimes the shallow fringe of that huge body of water governed by the remote body of the moon in a mystery something like love or desire…

“The sea lapping like a cat at a saucer of milk, or rather, since it is the liquid which acts, the sea like a vast saucer of milk lapping at a recumbent cat. The sea laps at the land, or the sea is in the lap of the land…

“The sea that always seems like a metaphor, but one that is always moving, cannot be fixed, like a heart that is like a tongue that is like a mystery that is like a story that is like a border that is like something altogether different and like everything at once. One thing leads to another, and this is the treasure that always runs through your fingers and never runs out.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Seashell to Ear”

“When the Spanish laid out cities in the Americas, they began with the plaza. Every place had a center, and when a place has a center, you know where you are. What terrifies me about sprawl is the sense that there are no centers and no edges, just a random quilt of strip malls and subdivisions all the way to the horizon. Such places make me feel adrift, without a sense of meaning or direction. I’ve always thought that San Francisco’s livelier public life wasn’t about our virtue, just our geography, symbolic and practical. We’re full of centers and boulevards, starting points, destinations, and alluring routes between them. The place just seems to encourage marching and gathering and walking. This might be what people mean when they call San Francisco the country’s most European city…

“Cities are where people are citizens, where they coexist in public, generating that public life so vital to a democracy, which depends on our sense of connection and trust in strangers, who become less strange when we move among them every day. Too many American cities are just vast suburbs, with people segregated by race, income, and avocation, and by their dependence on private automobiles to get around. Even in true cities, democracy, citizenship, public life can be just words. But in UN Plaza, you can stand and look east at TRUTH or west past Bolivar to image the curve of the earth over the blue horizon toward Asia; or you can just look your fellow human beings in the eye and know that you’re a citizen, of a city, of a state, of the world.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Heart of the City”