Friday, September 21, 2007

Mystifying Place

Solastalgia is the concept created by Glenn Albrecht from Newcastle University to explain the feelings of distress associated with loss of place. Solace + Nostalgia = Solastalgia.

In his cleverly titled blog (, Albrecht explains that ‘solastalgia’ describes 'the pain or sickness caused by the loss of, or inability to derive, solace connected to the present state of one’s home environment'. He defines it as 'the ‘lived experience’ of loss ... manifest in a feeling of dislocation', or a sense of homsickness even when you are at home. When a place is irrevocably changed, when the environment is damaged through human activity or natural disaster (flood, fire, earthquake), the result can be solastalgia and also grief, pain and trauma.

But sometimes the changes to local city environments are so small initially that we may not notice the changes, or pay attention to them until it is too late. One tree here, one old house there, and suddenly the place is filled with high rise concrete walls along the river, polluted air, roads clogged with traffic and no place to walk and restore (human and nature).

Randy Haluza-Delay (1997) says we need to remystify the cityscape. To do this 'is to reawaken a sense of wonder and to alert ourselves to the marvels of familar things...the first step is to look around...explore...make the unfamiliar familiar...expand awareness...and envision the type of world you want to live in'.

So find beauty. Seek spendour. And take care. Elizabeth Halpenny (2005), in her overview of research into the relationship between pro-environment behaviours and place attachment, has summarised several studies which indicate a connection between place attachment, place satisfaction and environmental care. You may be attached to a place but be critical of its environmental quality. She concludes, citing a study of lakeside residents in Wisconsin (Stedman, 2002), that those attached to special, local and even city-places but dissatisfied with them were more likely to get involved in actions to protect their local environment.

So being attached to a place like the river on an emotional, functional and cognitive level encourages environmentally-responsible behaviour. Connecting to place and caring for it then are crucial practices to ward off the pain of Albrecht's solastalgia.

References cited:
Halpenny E, 2005, Pro-Environment Intentions: Examining the Affect of Place Attachment, Environmental Attitudes, Place Satisfaction and Attitudes towards Pro-environmental Behaviour, paper presented to the Eleventh Canadian Congress of Leisure Research, Nanaimo, BC,
Haluza-Delay R, 1997, 'Remystifying the City: Reawakening the Sense of Wonder in Our Own Backyards', Green Teacher, 52, Summer.
Stedman RC, 2002, 'Toward a Social Psychology of Place: Predicting Behavior from Place-based Cognitions, Attitude and Identity,' Environment and Behavior, 34, 5, 561-581.