Worcester: This Is Where You Belong!

If you go to the sociology section of the "new release” shelves at the Worcester Public Library, you may find the book I just returned entitled This is Where You Belong:  The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live.  Exploring the “lost art of staying put”, author Melody Warnick ponders how the place where we live can become a place where we are rooted to stay.  How do we feel connected to the towns and cities where we reside?  How do we shift from living in a particular place to making a commitment to staying?  Warnick is obsessed with these questions of “place attachment” because she herself never felt settled in any one city or town to want to make a permanent home.  There was always the hope in the next move for a better locale where the weather would be perfect, the cultural life rich, the nature abundantly lush and beautiful, the people fascinating and welcoming.  After all her moves to what she believed would be the “perfect place”, Warnick comes to think she was all wrong.  Maybe there is no perfect place but just maybe one can learn to stay still long enough to love the place where one is.

Warnick is not alone.  We are a nation of wanderers.  The average American will move 11.7 times in his or her lifetime.  Maybe we have this wanderlust in our national DNA, a country founded primarily by those immigrants who were brave enough to cross oceans and head out to the frontiers in the west.  In our violent history, these restless settlers stamped out the natives who were people more rooted to the land. 

Then, again maybe our collective restlessness is tied to our capitalist economy based on continuous consumption.  Let’s face it.  There is much money to be made on these 11.7 moves.  There are Uhauls and movers that need to be hired.  Cabinets in new houses must be stocked with food and basic supplies.  Whole aisles in Target are dedicated to providing cheap furnishings for college dorm rooms. Most of these goods will end up on the street and in the trash next spring when students move out.  In a consumer economy, everything is meant to be disposable so we can then buy more.  In an economy that breeds personal dissatisfaction as the impetus for more purchasing (think planned obsolescence!), it should be no surprise that we learn to approach non-material goods in the same unsettled way.  There may be a better spouse/partner, better job, better house, and yes, better city around the corner?  Why settle for the current model? In her latest move to Blacksburg, Pennsylvania, Warnick is dedicated to learning how to settle.  If she changed her behaviors and acted like a person who loved Blacksburg, would she then begin to feel more attachment?  Could she possibly fake it until she felt it? 

In my twenty plus years living in Worcester, I have found a range of residents from those very rooted here to those like Warnick who remain unsettled.  Worcester has always seemed to have two distinct groups – the “real Worcesterites” and the rest of us.  “Real Worcesterites” are the ones with pedigree who were born and raised here.  Even if one has lived here for fifty years, he or she can never claim to be a “real Worcesterite”.  I have never met a real Worcesterite adult who was not fully identified with the city.  Some of the transplants also adopt Worcester as their own, making deep commitments to the political, cultural or activist life of the city.  More than likely, though, I meet transplants who are here by default.  A spouse is a professor at a local college.  A house in a decent neighborhood was within budget.  Many transplants I have met demonstrate shallow attachment to the city and moan about what Worcester lacks.  Priced out of the housing market of perceived more desirable cities, they don’t count the blessings of having an affordable place to live but focus on the dream of someday moving.  Just think what would happen if one could stop complaining on the sidelines and embrace Worcester more wholeheartedly!

Warner describes her journey of doing “Love Where You Live” experiments.  Here is her list of ten place attachment behaviors that could help our own ambivalent transplants put down needed roots.

Ten Actions to Learn To Love Where You Belong

  1. Walk more.
  2. Buy local.
  3. Say hi to your neighbors.
  4. Do something fun.
  5. Commune with nature.
  6. Volunteer.
  7. Eat local food.
  8. Get more political.
  9. Create something.
  10. Stay loyal through hard times.

Originally, I was going to write a review of this book in one long post and insert little nuggets for each of the to-dos of this list.  However, each chapter was so full of important research and information and stimulated so many Worcester stories for me that I decided to devote the next several blog posts to some of the specific "place attachment" behaviors Warnick outlines in her book.  I hope you will enjoy this journey in "loving Worcester".