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Being at Home

Being at home in the place where one lives or where one stays

What does it take to feel at home where one lives, or where one stays temporarily? What are sources of abundance? Why do so many people – and animals and plants – not have a place where they can be at home? And how can we enable more people, animals and plant species to have a home?



Context within NORA


Relationships to other needs

Physically, one needs shelter adequate to the climate, the topography, the culture, and one's individual needs in order to have a home. One needs to feel secure in and around one's dwelling in order to feel at home, which is based in part on the presence of supportive relationships. The home is a primary site for self-expression, as one furnishes and adorns one's dwelling in order to make it one's home, and contributes to the life of the locality or country where one lives in order to make that one's home. In addition, having a meaningful livelihood in that place helps to make it feel at home; for some people that is essential.

One needs access to all the resources and people on needs in one's home region, as well as in places where one stays for a shorter period of time, and these are usually not all in the same site. Therefore, one needs adequate mobility in order to make oneself fully at home. Further, in order to make a place one's home, one needs opportunities to learn about the place, and about what one needs to know in order to make oneself at home there.

Once one has a certain stake and sense of commitment to a place, one will tend to seek to be involved in the decision-making that affect the present and future conditions of life there (one's own as well as that of others). Through such involvement, one can also help to ensure that the place feels like home.

Once one feels at home in a place, it tends to be easier to think and feel beyond just what one needs in order to survive, to have time and seek spiritual connection with oneself and the larger world.


Relationships to Organizational Forms

The sense of being at home in a place largely evolves by orienting oneself in the place and connecting to other people there, which is a combination of self-provisioning, sharing, and community solidarity. One also becomes embedded in social networks as a result. In addition, making oneself at home in a place typically depends on the availability of a variety of establishments belonging to the individual sales and committed services or sales clusters of organizational forms.


Relationships to Resources

While we need all types of resources wherever we happen to live, whether we consider those places as home or not, what is crucial to making a place home are usually the intangibles such as love and trust. The physical, human-made assets such as the built environment, and the living things that characterize our home region also play a vital role.

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Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity

Why do we feel at home, or alienated, in the places where we live or stay?

People can feel at home where they have a constructive role in designing and redesigning their dwellings, as well as the wider settlements and/or urban quarters of which they are a part. People can feel at home where they feel safe, where they have strong social relationships, and where their other needs are met. It is the challenge of an economy, a society, a culture of abundance to create these conditions everywhere.

What are some of the institutionalized sources of scarcity?

First, we need to note the history of colonialism and dispossession. Colonialism and imperialism, and the class and status-based differences within societies that they have created or perpetuated, repeatedly displace people from their homes, or make their homes unliveable. People who have been displaced by being thrown off their land, whether through war or development projects such as large dams or through debt, may never again find a place where they can feel at home. Such impacts are passed on through generations, as many indigenous peoples find it difficult or impossible to recognize their homes even in their ancestral lands.

Many refugees from wars or other strife are kept in camps from which they are not allowed to leave, or where they are not allowed to work for a living. In cities, the unequal distribution of resources leaves slums and shantytowns with inadequate infrastructure, where high rates of crime make many people fearful of going outside. In too many cases, people are prevented from building their own houses with whatever materials they can afford or collect, or their houses are destroyed without compensation.

International migrants who seek to escape such conditions often encounter racism and discrimination in the places where they seek to earn money, and can never feel at home there – even while they may no longer feel at home in their places of origin.

Development programs, such as the construction of large dams with reservoirs that cover vast land areas, or on a smaller spatial scale, urban re-development projects that destroy existing urban quarters in order to build conference centers, sports arenas, hotel complexes and the like, can also displace people from the places where they are at home. Often, there is no place where these people can rebuild community as well as viable livelihoods; they may become dependent on government handouts or on short-term jobs that hardly allow them to survive.

Even many among the affluent, who can to a considerable extent choose where they live, and can afford houses of their own choosing, do not feel at home. This may be because their career path takes them to places with which they feel little or no connection, or because their career orientation prevents them from making such a connection with where they live. They may have chosen to live in the suburbs where people of their class tend to live, and then failed to establish organic connections there because suburbs are hardly designed for the purpose.

The marginalized as well as the affluent find themselves in settlements where there is a lack of public conviviality, of a well-balanced and intricate mix of public and private spaces, of places that encourage mingling and various sorts of crowds as well as other spaces that lend themselves to solitude. Too many places have been designed not with these kinds of characteristics in mind, but only with a view to road engineering, particularly in the service of the private car. Settlements have often been built ignoring or suppressing the natural features that make them unique and interesting, such as rivers and other bodies of water, casting out those “inconveniences” or “hazards,” only to let them return with a vengeance when human defenses fail in the face of an extreme event. Too often, the attempt to “modernize” cities has led to an attempt to eradicate all of their history (particularly if that was the history of a people considered inferior), and to create “non-places” that appear interchangeable with any other modern city, apart from some details of the layout, the names of the thoroughfares that commemorate national heroes, and a few great monuments. It is no wonder if many people there do not feel at home.

Many of these developments may be linked with trends in Western philosophy, which has promoted our alienation from the planet as a result of dissociating our minds and our rationality from the Earth and from matter. In that mindset, it seems like an affront that we have to limit ourselves to this planet onto which we were born, and to the natural world of which we are a part. This mindset has also produced a rather callous disregard for our natural environment, and thus mismanagement that not only degrades the resources we need, but also creates environments in which we ourselves do not feel at home. In this alienated state, we have designed places to efficiently serve machines rather than people. The result are polluted and ugly industrial zones, residential and commercial areas built for cars and not people. Beauty is relegated to second place after “efficiency,” even when that “efficiency” makes people unhappy.

A further major reason why many people, regardless of the social class they belong to, may not feel at home in a place is the effort to claim a territory as the exclusive home of some group of people. This most often takes the form of nationalism, in which it is claimed that a particular territory is by rights the home of a particular nation; hence, people of other nations are at best guests – they may be welcome or merely suffered or tolerated, but in any case they are not seen as actually belonging to the place. Although nationalism as we know it is a modern invention, taken to its logical conclusion it is incompatible with modern society – defined as a society a) using modern forms of travel that mean that every city on the planet can be quickly reached from every other city on the planet, b) using modern communications and information technology allowing instant or rapid communication from every inhabited place on the planet to every other inhabited place on the planet, c) and engaging in intensive flows of information, goods and services, money, and people all over the planet and across borders. While it may be debatable when exactly we reached modernity as defined in this way, it is nonetheless clear that our contemporary world is modern in this sense. This condition inevitably leads to people traveling or migrating from one place to another for short or long stays, and people of many different origins mixing in the same places. Any attempt at creating a sense of “home” by excluding “others” from that home territory, rather than by evolving a sense of shared “at-home-ness,” then inevitably creates a large number of people who do not feel at home in the place where they live or stay. This applies from the scale of cities all the way to the scale of entire countries. Thus, in the modern condition, any attempt to define any region or territory as anyone's exclusive home denies a sense of home to somebody else – we have to accept that any home, to be a true home, can only be shared.

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Being at home and the absence of fear

The histories of dispossession and alienation alluded to above are among the causes that can cause a climate of fear. But being at home requires love and therefore freedom from fear. For love is an important aspect of feeling at home: love of self, love of those with whom we share the sense of being at home, love of an environment.. And fear is the opposite of love and drives love away.

Fear is an emotion in that propels us away from what is (Latin emovere- to move away from). It can urge one to move away from any aspect of home: a place (e.g. an area where there is much violence) a person (e.g. a person in authority who makes demands we feel we can not meet), an institution (a school that demands that we do what we believe to be beyond our capacity and might therefore cause us harm, a cut-throat business environment, a dictatorship, a society that demands as to be other than who we believe we are, a culture we do not understand, an environment where we are asked to be open when we do not feel good about ourselves). Fear produces lose/lose relationships because the person who is on top holds this position against the will of the person who is not and so neither can ever feel relaxed and therefore never feel at home.

There is a hierarchy of fear that often has to do with how long we have been living with that particular fear. Each one of these levels or aspects of fear has special needs and organizational forms associated with it.

The most basic fear is the fear of who we think we are. People tend to push away into their subconscious minds memories, thoughts experiences about ourselves that we do not feel comfortable with. Each time we try to look inside, fear propels our attention away from these uncomfortable thoughts/feelings we have tried to tuck away and instead we focus on the outside world and blame others for the feelings of discomfort that arise when we are reminded of what we have hidden  away. In therapy, the therapist provides such a strong atmosphere of love that clients (patients) are suffused by it and feel so safe that they screw up the courage to look inside and see /feel what it is they are afraid of. This process helps to dissolve the fears and gradually clients begin to feel okay about who they are and no longer fear other people's opinions of them. This becomes a win/win situation. For where fear is transformed into a deep sense of self acceptance with all one's strengths and weaknesses, we begin to feel benevolence toward others and all benefit.

Also doing something one feels deeply passionate about tends to help a person to feel whole and this can help to overcome fear in schools (student centered education), in corporations where workers are encouraged to do what they love to do and therefore tend to do well; in society where a commons approach allows citizens to have a say in everything that is important to them individually, allowing them to feel in charge of their lives. This in turn encourages them to try and understand the concerns of others who are fellow-decision makers with whom they are interdependent. This is a win/win approach.

A commons approach can both help people overcome fears lodged n their personalities and in social institutions as well as create more caring and supportive social relationships.

Since almost all our needs are rooted in our natural as well as social environments, such commons approaches where people speak from the perspective of what they are most passionate about individually, also tend to result in a caring for the aspects of nature we and those closest to us are most dependent on. Where the well-being of all people and nature are taken into account we can talk about an all-win approach.

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Habitats of animals and plants

As we care for nature, we need to attend to the causes why so many animal and plant species have lost vital habitats. The expansion of agriculture (especially of monocultures), of mining and industry, and of cities finally encroaches on the habitats of free-living animal and plant species all over the world. Concerns about the survival of individual “charismatic” species and about the preservation of biodiversity more generally first led to efforts to protect habitats in the form of nature reserves. The underlying logic is similar to the logic of nationalism – as each nation should have its own territory, so also each species or species assemblage should have its own territory. This approach helps to preserve species habitats in places where human habitation is in any case sparse, mainly places of low agricultural potential and few mineral resources. However, it does little to preserve those species that inhabit places of high agricultural potential, especially well-watered tropical or temperate lowlands. In order to preserve biodiversity in such settings, we need to find ways to share human-inhabited landscapes with more species, for example, by establishing various forms of polyculture that provide habitat for a broad variety of species (some of which help keep pest populations in check), by maintaining wetlands, meadows, woodlands and other natural habitats interspersed with agricultural fields, and by ensuring that the migration paths of vertebrate species are not severed by our own transportation corridors. At the level of entire landscapes, the individuals of a sexually reproducing species must be able to find each other and mate in order to maintain a viable population; in order to maintain abundant life, we must ensure that this is possible for a maximum diversity of species in those landscapes that we have most modified for our own use.

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Paths toward abundance

For people who are alienated or fearful in the place where they live, there are two ways to establish a home: either to move to a place where they do feel at home, or to make the place where they now live their home. In many cases, the first option, to go “back home,” is not available, either because that home no longer exists (for example, it may have been flooded by a dam) or because they are prevented from returning (for example, because of political or economic reasons). When talking about solutions generally, however, we need to talk both about solutions that help people move to where they want to live, and solutions that help them live where they are now. When talking about solutions in a particular place, we can talk about those solutions intended to benefit the people who now live there, as well as those intended to benefit people who have been forced to move away, so that they can return.

For humans, the key to making themselves at home in a place is to be able to alter that place in ways large and small, so that they can feel at home there. This ranges from re-arranging pictures on one's wall all the way to being involved in political decision-making. People will not usually want to engage in a disproportionate effort that gets few results, and so it is important that decision-making occur at the lowest appropriate scale (the principle of subsidiarity). Such decision-making also needs to be inclusive – people need to be welcomed in a place as well as at the point of decision-making – so that all those people whose homes and livelihoods are being affected can have a say. When such approaches are consistently followed, all people should be able to feel at home in a place. This section will provide links to relevant pages.

But being at home is not only about the place where one lives. A sense of being at home will only be truly abundant if we find ways to make guests, visitors, travelers, nomads, migrants, sojourners of all types feel at home where they stay temporarily. Perhaps we can be more generous about sharing our homes if we remember that even those among us who stay in the same place throughout their lives stay in that place only temporarily – from their birth until their death.

For animals and plants, the key consideration is to ensure that there are areas of habitat that are sufficiently interconnected so that a viable population can survive. Depending on the species under consideration, that habitat may or may not be shared with human beings, or with various forms of agriculture or urban settlement. The point then is to design our agro-ecosystems and our urban ecosystems in such a way that they support maximum biodiversity while also serving human needs. Providing for all these needs means that the local people must be involved in decision-making just as much as in planning processes oriented to human needs only. Hence, the links to community-based approaches to habitat conservation below need to be read in conjunction with the links mentioned in the previous paragraph.

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Approaches to creating greater abundance

participatory urban planning

participatory development planning (for all new projects that change a place or may displace people)

providing resources for residents of shantytowns, favelas etc. to gradually upgrade their dwellings based on their own work efforts

participatory budgeting for local government

methods of Christopher Alexander for:

  • patterns of urban layout
  • consultations with residents/users for new developments
  • design/construction process

design charrettes

Complete streets

community development

local food systems

community gardens

hospitality – from the individual to national scales

cultural centers for immigrant or minority communities, or that promote cultural interaction among communities that are in a tense relationship with each other

provisions for dual citizenship

provisions to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections

educational and cultural programs for immigrants so that they can better integrate in the host society; for non-migrants so that they can better understand the immigrant communities

cultural events and celebrations that involve the whole community

programs to promote entrepreneurship among immigrant or minority communities

programs for individual therapy and personal growth

participatory rural appraisal

land to the tiller land reforms

rainwater harvesting and commons-based irrigation projects

polyculture methods in agriculture

registering and respecting indigenous land claims

sovereignty for first peoples

community-based forestry

joint forest management

community-based natural resource management

nature reserves

landscape-planning for conservation, allowing for habitat connectivity

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Alexander, Christopher. A Pattern Language, and Building Living Neighborhoods

Nomadbase – offering bases for modern nomads to stay



Member Publications

The matters in the section "being at home and the absence of fear" are discussed in depth in the novel by Lisinka Ulatowska: Fearless. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things in a world gripped by fear (follow the link to "Writings" to download a copy).



Alexander, Christopher. 1977. A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction. New York: Oxford University Press.

____. 2002. A Vision of a Living World (4 Volumes) Berkeley: Center for Environmental Structure

Augé, Marc.  1995 [1992]. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso.

Berry, Wendell. 1986. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Blomley, Nicholas. 2004. Unsettling the City: Urban land and the politics of property. New York and London: Routledge.

Davis, Mike. 1998. The Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the imagination of disaster. New York: Vintage Books.

Fan, Cindy. 2008. China on the Move: Migration, the State and the Household. London: Routledge.

Jacobs, Jane. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Marcus, Clare Cooper. 2006. House as a Mirror of Self. Lake Worth, Florida: Nicole-Hays, Inc.

Neumann, Roderick. 1998. Imposing Wilderness:Struggles over livelihood and nature preservation in Africa. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Pavel, Paloma (ed.). 2009. Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Peluso, Nancy Lee. 1992. Rich Forests, Poor People: Resource control and resistance in Java. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sack, Robert. 2003. A Geographical Guide to the Real and the Good. New York and London: Routledge.

Scott, James. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Williamson, Thad, David Imbroscio, and Gar Alperovitz. 2002. Making Place for Community: Local democracy in a global era. New York and London: Routledge.


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