The “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan’s coastal communities – Element 5: Sense of place

A sense of place is when the cultural heritage, available resources or some other unique element found within a community connects people with the identity of where they live, work or play.

Fostering a sense of place is more than improving the design, aesthetic or access to a resource within a community; it also requires developing a connection between the people to the community to this design, aesthetic or resource. When people are connected to their communities, they tend to engage in efforts to address local social, environmental and economic problems. One problem a community may encounter is that the connection one person has to their community may differ than the connection another person has to the same community, which may lead to differing perspectives on what is important. Fostering a sense of place that overcomes this problem requires creating a vision for the community that balances competing interests so that the triple bottom line can be achieved.

In coastal and waterfront communities, water can be a unifying resource that diverse stakeholders want to protect for long-term benefits to their respective stakeholder group. Clean and responsibly used water ensures that the public can enjoy its use for recreational purposes and does not pose a human health risk. Water-based economies like fishing and tourism understand the importance of maintaining and protecting the water and the resources found within ensures that their industry is sustained in future years. Protecting native plants and animals found in coastal areas ensures that the biodiversity of the area is retained.

Connecting business districts to the water, along with increasing the number of public facilities and access points on the water increases use in these areas can promotes public use of these areas. Increasing the use in these areas can instill a desire to protect these areas, as they begin to understand the risk of losing use of the water if it is not protected or managed appropriately.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively involved in projects that seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life, and promote economic activity in Michigan’s coastal areas. This article was adapted from: Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a report created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant. The document can be accessed at:

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