Thinking About Place Archive

When we get that “sense of place”, what’s going on? What are we “sensing”, and to what extent might it be a shared sense, something we can compare ideas about as we consider Helena’s future?

This is an experiment. Consider this your invitation to take part. Walk routes you like, and think about why you like them. What draws you on? Take notes. If enough curious folks do this, we can all get together and share our observations and see where it leads. How might sense of place be helpful to the growth and preservation of Helena? We can have some useful fun with this.



Walking Guide & Walking Guide (Additional Details)Download both documents & use alongside any of the site-specific walking notes below!


Benton Avenue – Walking Notes 1

Reeder’s Alley – Walking Notes 2, Walking Notes 3 & Walking Notes 10

Bluestone House – Walking Notes 4

Last Chance Gulch (from the Library to Placer St.) – Walking Notes 5Walking Notes 6 

Mount Helena/South Hill Trails – Walking Notes 7

This project invites people to explore Helena afoot & consider questions about “place” – an oft overlooked but critical element to the understanding and appreciation of a city and its history. A space is abstract; a place is a space with meaning. From its historic storefronts and iconic architecture to its meandering natural walls and pathways, Helena is packed with “place.” But why? What is it about Helena that continues to call out — not as a dot on map but as a unique lived experience that beckons and makes one feel at home?Dennis & Marisa

Helena by Foot

First, we’re pretty sure that “sense of place” has much to do with how we experience our unique built surroundings within their unique natural context, and that the experience is most accessible on foot.

So, we suggest that one of your walks be entirely within town — maybe in one of our historic districts or someplace else where the architecture seems intent on getting your attention — and that another walk cross from within town to some point that feels “out of town” — maybe across the interface between old Helena and our public open-lands.

  • In both cases think about the shape and “feel” of the spaces you’re walking through, and about how the spatial sequence unfolds as you go along. Think about what you’re walking toward, among, past, between, under, etc. Think about the topography underfoot and the lay of the land. Is there a sense of elevation, slope, enclosure, edge, etc? Are you entertained by the lay of the land? If so, how and why?
  • Do you take delight by what’s built on it? If you like walking among Helena’s old buildings, for example, is it because of the history? Or is it the character of the architecture itself — style, scale, texture, materials, workmanship, etc? What holds neighborhoods together? How “pedestrian-friendly” is the infrastructure?
  • Think about the landmarks and viewpoints and transition points by which you navigate. Are transitions clear and inviting? Do glimpses of open land in the near distance — Mount Helena, South Hills etc, — bring on a welcome sense of proximity to the Montana countryside? Can you walk to it?

Access Some Questions We Considered at Our September "Thinking About Place" Drive-In Below!

Questions About "Sense of Place"
  • Do you think that a person’s appreciation of a “sense of place” must necessarily involve an understanding about that place?  Or can the recognition of a sense of place happen with little to no knowledge about what is being looked at/experienced, etc.? For example:  Gertrude Stein’s “there is no there there” has been used as a description for placeless spaces.  Can place be recognized just by looking at it…in the sense that it’s either there or its not?  Or is some sort of special knowledge required in order to recognize place?
  • Insofar as our sense of place is connected to our environment, and insofar as our environment is constantly changing – can any one location really have an enduring sense of place?  Or will this always be fluid?  Can you think of an example of a place you have been to that seems to defy this….and, if so, how so?  What sorts of things might contribute to an enduring sense of place?a space, spot (be that a coastline, or building, or a city, etc.)
  • Can a space/location/building etc. have a sense if place while at the same time being unremarkable,  less than breathtaking, and common?  Can you think of an example of this here in Helena?
  • Must a sense of place evoke a sense of contentment?  Or can it evoke a sense of discontent?  Is there a space/spot/building/other here in Helena that you can think of that has a sense of place to it….but evokes feelings of discontent?
  • What “place” ingredients are involved in what makes Helena, Helena?

Access Notes & Resources from our October "Thinking About Place" Workshop Below!

Helena by Sight

Second, note the sights that strike you as being unique, in any way, to Helena — sights essential to your mental image of the place. These might be the “iconic” sights, or “evocative” ones. They might be lucky visual accidents, or oddball juxtapositions. They might be sights that are surprising, quirky, peculiar (in any sense of that word), amusing, beautiful or engaging in any other way. Use whatever adjectives come to mind.

  • We’re betting that by walking around out there and thinking about Helena in this way, and then getting together to share those thoughts, we can begin approaching “sense of place” in terms realistic enough to enter into consideration of Helena’s future growth and preservation. 

To join in, contact:


“The Power of Spaces” (TED Radio Hour)

~Architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri explore the power of spaces with NPR’s Manoush Zomorodi.


“What Makes a Building Beautiful?” (A Why? Radio Podcast)

~Philosopher & jazz musician Jack Russell Weinstein explores beauty, design, and more with Sarah Williams Goldhagen~


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