The politics of a community are determined in surprising ways by the physical space of the place in which the community exists.
The politics of a community are determined in surprising ways by the physical space of the place in which the community exists. The notion of community and the so-called politics of place are explored in relatable detail by author and politician Daniel Kemmis in Community and the Politics of Place (1990). While Kemmis mostly describes how the particulars of landscape helped shape communities located in prairies and wide open western states, seeing Falls Church City through the politics of its unique place is helpful to understanding many of the common dilemmas we face today.
Falls Church City is located in place which has historically been a crossroad. In a fit of ineloquence it was once described as being a hallway for passers through. The roadways which intersect the city were once Stone Age Indian trails, then toll roads, next military highways, and now modernly major commuter routes. The intersections have not just been physical roads, but also historical events. The community has existed at a place where significant history – the emergence of tribal nations, revolution, civil war, the birth of a super power nation – have happened almost literally in its front yard.
While the city struggles with creating an identity as a destination, particularly as a commercial destination, it balances that desire with its essence as a historical corridor. The majority of people, from the earliest known history, have experienced our community as a pass through place. Presumably that will also be true in the future. Building a community which embraces its place politics as a corridor; perhaps through supporting intermodal transportation centers, vivid signage, clear vision landscaping, innovative traffic management and other infrastructure planning which is designed to enhance the pass through experience of the community – rather than to crudely bog down and capture traveler dollars – would seem to emphasize a unique sense of community.
The tiny physical size of Falls Church, underscored by it being squeezed in between the two megalopolis political jurisdictions of Fairfax and Arlington and by its place in the even larger Baltimore – Washington Metropolitan political region, also defines the community.
Little place politics creates a built-in sense of belonging, of extended family and ownership in the community. Local government feels accessible. Local businesses are familiar. People are recognized and welcomed in to an active extended village.
The risk is the city becoming isolated, insular, and losing the sense of how it fits into the politics of the larger political community. The politics of a small place can create an island community defined by individual entitlement, narrow self interest, and intolerance (of status quos, of change, and of anything which is perceived in the moment as being not part of the community). False dichotomies creep into the political rubric and embed themselves in the fabric of discussion.
Our schools must be … We cannot do … The situation requires … He. She. Us. Them. Now. Never.
Fortunately, sense of community can be reclaimed, and sustained, by practicing the connection we all have to our unique place.
Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.