Being at Home

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Being at home in the place where one lives

What does it take to feel at home where one lives? What are sources of abundance? Why do so many people – and animals and plants – not have a place where they can be at home? And how can we enable more people, animals and plant species to have a home?

Relationships to other needs

Shelter/housing appropriate to one’s cultural and individual preferences, and the climate.”

Physically, one needs shelter adequate to the climate, the topography, the culture, and one's individual needs.

Security from bodily, emotional, and mental harm; this includes security when one cannot take care of oneself (e.g., in infancy and childhood, in old age, or due to illness or disability).”

One needs to feel safe in order to feel at home.

Supportive relationships with other people, relationships that empower, that contribute to a gain in personal energy rather than an energy drain.”

One needs to feel connected with other people in a place in order to feel at home there.

“A meaningful livelihood that allows one to meet one’s other needs.”

Sooner or later, if one cannot obtain one's livelihood in one's home-place (or at least can't return there often while pursuing one's livelihood elsewhere), it will no longer seem quite like home.

Mobility to reach the places one needs to go, with appropriate modes of transportation.”

One needs access to all the resources and people on needs in one's home region, and these are usually not all in the same place. Therefore, one needs to be able to move around.

"Opportunities to learn anything and everything relevant to one's life"

One learns most about a place in which one feels fully engaged, in which one takes a vital interest. Formal educational institutions should support such an engagement with the place where they are located.

“Participation in collective economic and political decision-making.”

Once one has a certain stake and sense of commitment to a place, one will tend to seek to be involved in the decisions that affect the present and future conditions of life there (one's own as well as that of others). Through such involvement, one can also help to ensure that the place feels like home.

“Having enough time to relax, to think, to imagine, to enjoy life, to play, to be alone.” “Spiritual connection with one’s deeper self and with a transcendent unity.”

Once one feels at home in a place, it tends to be easier to think and feel beyond just what one needs in order to survive, to have time and seek spiritual growth.

“A freely chosen life direction

In life's journey, as one searches for one's place in the world, one often has to travel to places that are uncomfortable or dangerous and where one does not wish to stay. However, if one has chosen a meaningful path, whether for the rest of one's life or just for the next few years, one does have to pursue that path in an appropriate setting. This can also contribute to the making of one's home.

Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity

Why do we feel at home, or alienated, in the places where we live?

People can feel at home where they have a constructive role in designing and redesigning their dwellings, as well as the wider settlements and/or urban quarters of which they are a part. People can feel at home where they feel safe, and where their other needs are met. It is the challenge of an economy, a society, a culture of abundance to create these conditions everywhere.

What are some of the institutionalized sources of scarcity?

First, we need to note the history of colonialism and dispossession. Colonialism and imperialism, and the class and status-based differences within societies that they have created or perpetuated, repeatedly displace people from their homes, or make their homes unliveable. People who have been displaced by being thrown off their land, whether through war or development projects such as large dams or through debt, may never again find a place where they can feel at home. Such impacts are passed on through generations, as many indigenous peoples find it difficult or impossible to recognize their homes even in their ancestral lands.

Many refugees from wars or other strife are kept in camps from which they are not allowed to leave, or where they are not allowed to work for a living. In cities, the unequal distribution of resources leaves slums and shantytowns with inadequate infrastructure, where high rates of crime make many people fearful of going outside. In too many cases, people are prevented from building their own houses with whatever materials they can afford or collect, or their houses are destroyed without compensation.

International migrants who seek to escape such conditions often encounter racism and discrimination in the places where they seek to earn money, and can never feel at home there – even while they may no longer feel at home in their places of origin.

Development programs, such as the construction of large dams with reservoirs that cover vast land areas, or on a smaller spatial scale, urban re-development projects that destroy existing urban quarters in order to build conference centers, sports arenas, hotel complexes and the like, can also displace people from the places where they are at home. Often, there is no place where these people can rebuild community as well as viable livelihoods; they may become dependent on government handouts or on short-term jobs that hardly allow them to survive.

Even many among the affluent, who can to a considerable extent choose where they live, and can afford houses of their own choosing, do not feel at home. This maybe because their career path takes them to places with which they feel little or no connection, or because their career orientation prevents them from making such a connection with where they live. They may have chosen to live in the suburbs where people of their class tend to live, and then failed to establish organic connections there because suburbs are hardly designed for the purpose.

The marginalized as well as the affluent find themselves in settlements where there is a lack of public conviviality, of a well-balanced and intricate mix of public and private spaces, of places that encourage mingling and various sorts of crowds as well as other spaces that lend themselves to solitude. Too many places have been designed not with these kinds of characteristics in mind, but only with a view to road engineering, particularly in the service of the private car. Settlements have often been built ignoring or suppressing the natural features that make them unique and interesting, such as rivers and other bodies of water, casting out those “inconveniences” or “hazards,” only to let them return with a vengeance when human defenses fail in the face of an extreme event. Too often, the attempt to “modernize” cities has led to an attempt to eradicate all of their history (particularly if that was the history of a people considered inferior), and to create “non-places” that appear interchangeable with any other modern city, apart from some details of the layout, the names of the thoroughfares that commemorate national heroes, and a few great monuments. It is no wonder if many people there do not feel at home.

Many of these developments may be linked with trends in Western philosophy, which has promoted our alienation from the planet as a result of dissociating our minds and our rationality from the Earth and from matter. In that mindset, it seems like an affront that we have to limit ourselves to this planet onto which we were born, and to the natural world of which we are a part. This mindset has also produced a rather callous disregard for our natural environment, and thus mismanagement that not only degrades the resources we need, but also creates environments in which we ourselves do not feel at home. In this alienated state, we have designed places to efficiently serve machines rather than people. The result are polluted and ugly industrial zones, residential and commercial areas built for cars and not people. Beauty is relegated to second place after “efficiency,” even when that “efficiency” makes people unhappy.

A further major reason why many people, regardless of the social class they belong to, may not feel at home in a place is the effort to claim a territory as the exclusive home of some group of people. This most often takes the form of nationalism, in which it is claimed that a particular territory is by rights the home of a particular nation; hence, people of other nations are merely guests – they may be welcome or merely suffered or tolerated, but in any case they are guests. Although nationalism as we know it is a modern invention, taken to its logical conclusion it is incompatible with modern society – defined as a society a) using modern forms of travel that mean that every city on the planet can be quickly reached from every other city on the planet, b) using modern communications and information technology allowing instant or rapid communication from every inhabited place on the planet to every other inhabited place on the planet, c) and engaging in intensive flows of information, goods and services, money, and people all over the planet and across borders. While it may be debatable when exactly we reached modernity as defined in this way, it is nonetheless clear that our contemporary world is modern in this sense. This condition inevitably leads to people migrating from one place to another, and people of many different origins mixing in the same places. Any attempt at creating a sense of “home” by excluding “others” from that home territory, rather than by evolving a sense of shared “at-home-ness,” then inevitably creates a large number of people who do not feel at home in the place where they live. This applies from the scale of cities all the way to the scale of entire countries. Thus, in the modern condition, any attempt to define any region or territory as anyone's exclusive home denies a sense of home to somebody else – we have to accept that any home, to be a true home, can only be shared.

The expansion of agriculture (especially of monocultures), of mining and industry, and of cities finally encroaches on the habitats of free-living animal and plant species all over the world. Concerns about the survival of individual “charismatic” species and about the preservation of biodiversity more generally first led to efforts to protect habitats in the form of nature reserves. The underlying logic is similar to the logic of nationalism – as each nation should have its own territory, so also each species or species assemblage should have its own territory. This approach helps to preserve species habitats in places where human habitation is in any case sparse, mainly places of low agricultural potential and few mineral resources. However, it does little to preserve those species that inhabit places of high agricultural potential, especially well-watered tropical or temperate lowlands. In order to preserve biodiversity in such settings, we need to find ways to share human-inhabited landscapes with more species, for example, by establishing various forms of polyculture that provide habitat for a broad variety of species (some of which help keep pest populations in check), by maintaining wetlands, meadows, woodlands and other natural habitats interspersed with agricultural fields, and by ensuring that the migration paths of vertebrate species are not severed by our own transportation corridors. At the level of entire landscapes, the individuals of a sexually reproducing species must be able to find each other and mate in order to maintain a viable population; in order to maintain abundant life, we must ensure that this is possible for a maximum diversity of species in those landscapes that we have most modified for our own use.

Approaches to creating greater abundance

For people who are alienated in the place where they live, there are two ways to establish a home: either to move to a place where they do feel at home, or to make the place where they now live their home. In many cases, the first option, to go “back home,” is not available, either because that home no longer exists (for example, it may have been flooded by a dam) or because they are prevented from returning (for example, because of political or economic reasons). When talking about solutions generally, however, we need to talk both about solutions that help people move to where they want to live, and solutions that help them live where they are now. When talking about solutions in a particular place, we can talk about those solutions intended to benefit the people who now live there, as well as those intended to benefit people who have been forced to move away, so that they can return.

For humans, the key to making themselves at home in a place is to be able to alter that place in ways large and small, so that they can feel at home there. This ranges from re-arranging pictures on one's wall all the way to being involved in political decision-making. People will not usually want to engage in a huge effort in order to modify their home to be more liveable, and so it is important that decision-making occur at the lowest appropriate scale (the principle of subsidiarity). Such decision-making also needs to be inclusive, so that all those people whose homes and livelihoods are being affected can have a say. When such approaches are consistently followed, all people should be able to feel at home in a place. This section will provide links to relevant pages.

For animals and plants, the key consideration is to ensure that there are areas of habitat that are sufficiently interconnected so that a viable population can survive. Depending on the species under consideration, that habitat may or may not be shared with human beings, or with various forms of agriculture or urban settlement. The point then is to design our agro-ecosystems and our urban ecosystems in such a way that they support maximum biodiversity while also serving human needs. Providing for all these needs means that the local people must be involved in decision-making just as much as in planning processes oriented to human needs only. Hence, the links to community-based approaches to habitat conservation below need to be read in conjunction with the links mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Specific sections to include:

participatory urban planning

participatory development planning (for all new projects that change a place or may displace people)

providing resources for residents of shantytowns, favelas etc. to gradually upgrade their dwellings based on their own work efforts

participatory budgeting for local government

urban layout along lines of Christopher Alexander

Complete streets

community development

community gardens

cultural centers for immigrant or minority communities, or that promote cultural interaction among communities that are in a tense relationship with each other

provisions for dual citizenship

provisions to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections

educational and cultural programs for immigrants so that they can better integrate in the host society; for non-migrants so that they can better understand the immigrant communities

cultural events and celebrations that involve the whole community

programs to promote entrepreneurship among immigrant or minority communities

participatory rural appraisal

land to the tiller land reforms

rainwater harvesting and commons-based irrigation projects

polyculture methods in agriculture

registering and respecting indigenous land claims

sovereignty for first peoples

community-based forestry

joint forest management

community-based natural resource management

landscape-planning for conservation, allowing for habitat connectivity


To be added.


To be added

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