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The opinion / L'opinion : Place Making - An Antidote for the Endemic Case Making

By: David J.A. Douglas.
Rural development, whether pursued from the community hall resolution, the politician’s press conference, the academic’s earnest paper, or otherwise is commonly associated with a rhetoric of protest, pleading, differentiation, and other forms of case making.

It might be extreme or over-stated to say that we are easily given to too much whining. However, it is less of an exaggeration to say that most of what we proffer in the public arena is a strained attempt to stake out our non-urban or perhaps un-urban characteristics, some of them expressed as desirable moral attributes. These are occasionally accompanied by a feisty reminder that we feed the cities, provide their fresh water, give freely of our landscapes for their vicarious enjoyment, are the sources of their minerals and other forms of derived wealth, and that we may indeed be the unsullied, but neglected crucible of the country’s core values, and perhaps its very soul.

This admixture of protesting the systemic neglect, highlighting the endemic exploitation, insisting on the qualitative differences, all too often looks like a condition of self-discomfort, a sort of nagging, ambiguous “otherness” that does not sit too well with us. A perennial condition of case-making may well be our own undoing. It might be associated with a reactive condition of festering victimization. It fosters the requirement to stress differences and posit uniqueness, or at least the selective dissimilarities. On the other hand, it might be associated with the reactive condition of instrumentally seeking out strategic commonalities, pleading a common cause or expectations in public services or other dimensions of provision. The jaded other than urban to self-describe or project ourselves, collides with the pragmatic realization of multiple commonalities (we are all Canadians), which itself collides with the case-making to engender some respectful appreciation (e.g. of resource contributions), which in turn grinds against the spatially differentiated evidence of real world functional interrelationships (e.g. commuting, watershed management). In this maelstrom one is impressed, and betimes depressed with the predominance of a culture of case making.

It is suggested here than some rebalancing of this condition, this worldview and associated practice, might be found in greater attention to place making in our rural worlds. This provides some re-focusing on the myriad of assets and opportunities that are to be found in our spaces, however they may be influenced by the presence of urban places. It puts a renewed emphasis on the challenges of making nurturing complexes of social relationships and supportive systems of governance in the places that we create, that we make and maintain. We have to make them beautiful. We have to make them humane and civilized. We have to make them bountiful sources of livelihood. We have to fashion them, not in reaction to other constructed places, such as metropolitan centres, but to reflect our values, and our visions. Rural as residual will of course not dissipate in the dreaming of better days and better informed others. But rural as revivifying can be created if we rebalance a culture of case making with a positive praxis of place making.
See you there!

About the author
David J.A. Douglas is a Professor Emeritus in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development at the University of Guelph. He is a Board Member on the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF), an Advisor for a major rural housing research project in Ireland, an Advisor for a large scale pilot project on rural regional collaboration in Western Canada and the North, called the Community Collaboration Project (Brandon University), and a Member of the OECD LEED Forum on Partnerships and Local Government. David is actively involved in a number of research projects and community outreach, and instructs several courses within Rural Planning and Development.

David can be reached at

The opinion is an initiative of the Canadian Rural Research Network (CRRN) meant to stimulate debate and knowledge mobilization through information sharing. Authors of The opinion are invited to present their views on issues of relevance to rural research and knowledge dissemination. The views presented in The opinion are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CRRN or its partners.


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