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By W. Arthur Mehrhoff
I had the privilege of participating in an Extension Service program that brought folks from central Missouri interested in heritage tourism and agritourism down to the Ste. Genevieve region in order to learn from their successful agritourism efforts.
The Mississippi Hills region near Ste. Genevieve has worked very hard to promote what the French call their terroir, or unique cultural geography, and people are starting to take notice and even wine about it.
Getting to know your place can be hard work, as you can tell by the photo above, but this approach raises an important point to consider about the art of placemaking.
In this global economy, communities and regions really need to understand their special qualities in order to think strategically. Those special qualities typically grow out of (often quite literally) their geology and geography.
I remember in one community that I visited as part of a Minnesota Design Team excursion many years ago, several people replied “corn” to my question about their native vegetation. Kind of funny, I guess, but the answer also suggested missed opportunities or potential problems ahead.
Another community struggling with water quality problems eventually remembered that long before rapid residential and commercial development, their town had been widely known for growing potatoes in the sandy, easily draining soil of the Anoka Sand Plain, and they answered their own question about the water quality issues with that basic knowledge. “The land,” declared Frank Lloyd Wright, “is the most basic form of architecture”, the foundation of everything that subsequently takes place in the community.
Next time I’ll talk about some ways that you can better understand the land and the other layers of community that we build upon it. I'll also introduce you to a great resource for important data to answer questions about your special place.
Meanwhile, we would love to learn about Missouri communities (hopefully yours!) whose knowledge and appreciation of their natural heritage provides the foundation for creating a healthy future. Thanks for reading!
W. Arthur Mehrhoff is the academic coordinator for the MU Museum of Art and Archeology. His books include The Gateway Arch: Fact & Symbol and Community Design: A Team Approach to Dynamic Community Systems. He is currently working on an anthology of essays about Missouri's special places entitled: Coming Home Again: A Missouri Journal.