Finding the Spirit of Place: Questions

Pay attention to the shape of your neighborhood.

  • What feels like the center of the neighborhood?
  • Where are the boundaries?
  • Where is the high ground?
  • Where are the low places?
  • Where can you find water? Is it still or flowing?

Notice how your neighborhood celebrates sacred time.

  • What and when are the neighborhood festivals and other gatherings? (Be sure to include unofficial gatherings like garage sale weekends.)
  • Where does the neighborhood go on pilgrimage (cruising the strip, along traditional parade routes)?
  • What ritual objects (holiday decorations, public art, lawn sculptures) are displayed?

Find out what lives in the spaces in between.

  • What is in the alleys?
  • Where can you go to see birds?
  • Where can you go to get away from cars?
  • Where do children go to get away from adults?

Find out where the spirits live.

  • Who lived here before you did? And before them?
  • Where have scandals and tragedies occurred?
  • Where is the haunted house in the neighborhood?
  • What happens in your neighborhood between midnight and 6 a.m.?

Determine how well-rounded the soul of the place is.

  • What grows in the neighborhood? Trees, flowers, vegetables, weeds, nothing?
  • What places are named by the children?
  • What makes your neighborhood different from adjacent neighborhoods?
  • Where can you go to talk to someone who is not a family member or next-door neighbor?
  • What basic needs can you satisfy in your neighborhood without getting in a car?

From "Finding the Soul of the City," by Elizabeth VanderSchaaf, Utne Reader, September/October 1994, reprinted with permission.