Our “Through These Gates” study group, funded by a grant from the New Jersey Council of the Humanities, has just concluded. Our study group consisted of members of the Ethical Society as well as local representatives and community stakeholders. We were also able to engage a large number of youth, who provided feedback on the research and collected data through surveys. Place attachment theory is a body of information that highlights the importance of feeling connected to local spaces and places, and how these connections promote personal wellbeing and social cohesion, among other benefits.
The culmination of this work is an article co-authored by Dr. Kathleen L. Wolf, a research social scientist who has done extensive work on place attachment theory, and Curt Collier, leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County. The article, titled “Place Attachment and Meaning: Nurturing Mature Relationships,” is both a review of the academic literature on place attachment theory and a guide to the practical application of place attachment theory in a local setting. Read the article.
Along with this publication, the youth collected data for a second study entitled “Place Attachment Survey: a Local Look.” This data, outlined below, revealed the importance of place attachment to local residents, but often the disconnect of finding local public spaces in which to feel a part. This disconnect highlights the need for community groups, such as the Ethical Society, to work to build connections between area residents and public places in order to reap the benefits touted by place attachment theorists.
Coordinated by Curt Collier; Data Collection by Solangie Langumas and Maya Zake
Sponsored by the New Jersey Council of the Humanities
Summary of Survey Results
A survey was developed to measure the depth and breadth of place attachment among residents near Teaneck, NJ. The survey was administered during Ethical Culture’s Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, with 48 people submitting completed survey forms. The results showed that while 100 percent of participants could identify a public place/space they felt connected to, only 30 percent identified a place that was local/nearby. Fifty-four percent of respondents identified a place/space that was far from where they lived (Costa Rica, Korea, Disneyworld, Vermont, etc.). In addition, 17 percent cited their home as the most important place/space to which they felt attached.
The need to help people feel connected: When respondents were asked, “Other than your home, do you feel connected to where you live?” forty-six percent said “no” and 54 percent said “yes.” This might be expected in a highly urban environment with high mobility and an influx of new immigrants. However, it also highlights the need for concerted efforts to help people feel connected to where they now live for all the social benefits discussed in place attachment theory.
Lack of access to green space: Place attachment theory often emphasizes the importance of connections to nature for a variety of personal and social benefits. Only 33 percent of survey respondents clearly identified a natural environment and nature in general as central to a place/space to which they felt most attached. The area in which the survey was conducted is mostly suburban. with a number of area parks. The Hackensack and Hudson Rivers flow nearby, but lack of access to green space was cited as an issue by environmental groups that participated in this study.
Fewer than one-third felt a connection to community: Cultural connections and ties to communities that often share histories and narratives are also touted in place attachment theory as an important way to connect people to a local space/place. Interestingly, only 31 percent of respondents cited a connection to a specific community or to community in general as making a place special. Thirty-eight percent cited only a connection to family members or childhood memories with their family as the main reason a place feels special. Some research suggests that in areas of high mobility and large, diverse populations with few shared narratives, connection to community is lower than in less diverse areas with stable populations that have lived in the same place for generations.