A process for describing the perception of a sense of place

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The research hypothesis of this study states that when individuals are asked to rank order certain places (environments) in terms of preference, then relationships can be measured between that rank ordering and relevant contextual adjective descriptors that indicate a person's perception of those places. These adjectives include beauty, excitement, distinction, naturalness, security, mystery, tradition, complexity, and familiarity (Canter, 1977; Ganmore, 1975; Ley, 1983; Lynch, 1981; Steele, 1981).

After critical sites had been identified in a sketch map study, a sample of community members of the town of Blacksburg, Virginia were asked to respond to the sites along adjective dimensions that represent a sense of place.

It was found that positive linear relationships existed in varying degrees of strength between the adjectives and place preference. Statistical significant relationships were found, in descending order of strength, between preference and beauty, excitement, distinction, naturalism, security, and mystery. No linear relationships were found between preference and tradition, complexity and familiarity.

It has been concluded that places are perceived on other criteria beside just aesthetic appreciation. Furthermore, this thesis supports the argument that places are experienced on a symbolic and emotional level. Places are not merely a composition of physical elements. This deeper experience is the basis for the concept of a sense of place.