Public Space Determines Personal Identity

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If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person? - Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

The space in which we live can be a very important determinant of cultural practices which shape our personal identities.

In order to understand the various identities formed by the place we live in we need to look back into our own lives and ponder how the environments have shaped our personal identity as an individual.

Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. A good example of the way utilization of public space determines personal identity. (Image: Prayitno / Flickr)

How has your life been influenced by those around you? Have you got a good sense of your urban or rural spatial environment? How has this shaped your identity as an individual? These are some of the questions that we need to answer to understand the space in which we live in. So in order to understand our own identity we need to think spatially.

“Really, thinking spatially means looking beyond ourselves, a recognition of others” states Doreen Massey. Space is outward bound. Identity is inward bound. It is this connection between the outward shaping the inward that is crucial in determining our own spatial identity.

The space that we live in is proven to have direct effects in shaping our identities. As American urban planner Kevin Lynch states, “Every citizen has long standing associations with some part of his city and this image is soaked in memories and meanings.” We constantly create images in our minds based on what we see and feel (which is the outward effect on the inward identity). This is extremely important in having a sense of where we come from – our spatial identity.

Spatial identity can also be global identity at times, since with globalization, the world is rapidly trying to create identical spaces – as many similar variations of mall culture, for example, spring up in locations around the world. Timothy Shortell identifies that urban life in specific cities bring a sense of “glocalised” spaces where people can modify their spatial structures to be more in sync with their personal identities, something that can be done globally. He says that the “real test of community takes place during the course of everyday life in the streets, in the shops and in the public spaces of neighborhoods. Class, racial and ethnic hierarchies mark spaces with differential meanings.”

There has always been a special bond between the place we live in and the behavioral patterns we choose to emit. This is closely associated with the memories and meanings we create of the outside environment. Our perception of the environment can also have a direct influence on personal identity. If we perceive the place we live in from a positive light, it will yield positive results for us. However, some places stricken by war or extreme physical illness cannot be perceived positively and people would need a change of environment.

(Image: Bogomir Doringer / Flickr)

Spatial identity is not stagnant. As humans are moving beings, we can migrate or travel to different spaces which in turn also shape a part of our identity. For instance, I’ve lived in two different countries and traveled extensively to other parts of the globe, so my identity is somewhat cross-cultural. As space changes, so can personal identities. Personal identity can also be a choice with the place people identify most with, as opposed to those that had minimal effects on their life.

Do you agree? Has space influenced your personal identity? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.