Philosophers have most of the noun-ground covered. They go on about the nature of persons and things, but they don’t say nearly as much about places. I know there’s good stuff in the philosophy of science about space and such, but that’s not what I’m after. I wonder what makes a place the place that it is.
Places can mean something, something to all of us or only a few of us. Places can be sacred too. Maybe they have been so since at least homo habilis — even an elephant is hip to this sort of thing, so the story goes, in its own elephantine way. We make pilgrimages to places, remember the dead in places, pray in places. (Even atheists whisper in churches.) Some places are just the opposite. They have a profane vibe, a nasty resonance. There are places in London where plague victims were buried in mass graves. There are old battlefields. Those places are still dead, and they can feel dead whether you know the history or not. In addition to sacred and profance places are no doubt places of all sorts of other kinds. Those two sorts just bubbled up first.
Places of public significance are matched by places that can matter only to you in the way that they do. It’s neither sacred nor profane, but you can smile to yourself in a place where there used to be a tree that you climbed a long time ago. The place is significant to you, whether the tree is still there or not.
Places can be about something, certainly. Like words and pictures, a place can point beyond itself to something else entirely. But the intentional wallop of a place is not all that makes that place the place that it is. There’s something else, but I can’t get at it without going circular. I want to say that a place is the place that it is because of what it’s like for us to be in it. I know that’s no help at all, but I still think it might be true.