Last week in this series, I discussed the importance of social offerings, the opportunities for positive social interaction in the community, for both people and places. This week, I turn to the second most important thing in creating loved places according to the Soul of the Community: aesthetics. Aesthetics was found to be the second or third most important thing in creating a loved place in all 26 cities, all three years of the study.
Looks Aren’t Everything (But Close)
Two general areas help comprise aesthetics: what was there when humans showed up (natural beauty) and how humans built it up (created beauty). Unfortunately, before the Soul findings were released, it was common for some in community to see aesthetics as extra/a value add. In fact, when budgets get tight in places, aesthetics are among the first to get the red ink and a lot of exactly that happened at the time of the study. Of course, hard choices have to be made, but there does seem to be a consequence when aesthetics are cut. It’s seen as extra, when in actuality it’s foundational to the place.
A subsequent study I did in Charlotte found the need for aesthetics remains high in creating a loved place regardless of socioeconomic status. In other words, the need to feel dignity and pride in your environment remains regardless of personal income and wealth. Luckily, aesthetics is highly scaleable depending on those factors. In fact, even a little (such as simply maintained properties/no blight and common spaces with minimal landscaping) can make a difference in creating aesthetics.
So why are aesthetics so important? First off, aesthetics is the first and most consistent message a place sends about itself to residents and visitors. Place aesthetics are everywhere. When you are creating a loved place, you have to view your entire place through that aesthetic lens. Again, it can be scaled – and should be depending on the narrative of your place (that law still applies). Some areas may look better than others, but it all matters and sends a message to us as its inhabitants about the pride we should feel in being in that space. And pride is related to our attachment and love of that place. Pride also matters in not only how we feel about a space, but also translates to how we feel about ourselves. If we look around and see negative reflections of our environment coming back to us, it can affect how we care for the place and also how we perceive ourselves. Pretty important stuff.
So look around your place today as you go through your daily life. What messages is your place sending about itself and how does it make you feel about the place, and even yourself? Do you feel a sense of pride and optimism? Or…not so much? We often see lifestyle magazines and health experts advocate for your bedroom, your bathroom or your home as your castle, your sanctuary. True. But the place (outside of the home) is the kingdom where many spend the majority of their day. And at its most basic level, having a partner we find attractive is critical to the Place Match.