Familiar places convey the feeling of belonging and home. Changing places can provide a feeling of freedom, not only of homelessness and uprooting. If asked for a „favorite place,” most people would have an answer.
The awareness of gender differences has taught us to question the „neutrality” of places: universities, churches, enterprises, and parliaments have so far been patriarchal „male places.” Although women are by now allowed to enter and participate in most of these places, they often have a sense of being in the „wrong place.” Intruding on a place where they disturb the old masculine-patriarchal order is experienced as disagreeable. This experience has led to the practice of the feminist movement to establish women’s places: declared places for female desires to be articulated and reflected upon, without being occupied by the male imaginary. Since humans of different genders and generations are living together, places of the in-between are also needed where common contributions to shape the world can be negotiated and discussions about meaning can take place as well.
Places of politics are places where humans meet, transgress their personal interests, and open their minds for things that are important for everyone. These places can be kitchen tables, a pub, a round table for communal meetings, or any public spaces. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, or blogs can become places of politics for people living far apart from each other.
„Impersonal places” or „places of anonymity” (as the American sociologist Richard Sennett calls them) are public places -that are often yet to be created -where different groups of people living in a city can mix without necessarily having (inter)personal contacts. People can get rid of the burdens of social affiliation, of class, of job – of identities. They can show other aspects of their personalities than in their private or professional lives and experience themselves as humans and part of a community.
In a globalizing world, there are a lot of places that are similar to each other, identified by pictograms for orientation: stations, airports, warehouses, international hotel- and restaurant chains. They are often called „non-places,” for instance in sociological discourse. These are real places, though, even if the homogenization of local cultures in the name of globalization gives cause for concern. People who, for varying reasons, travel often, develop a bond of trust to these places. They easily find their way around and can experience a sense of home.
Powerful institutions have cleverly used the longing for familiar places for their own purposes. However, we can also refer to this longing by creating a place for a good life in the midst of the city, a public place. A place without entrance fees, without identity checks, and with no need to consume anything, where anyone is welcome, regardless of the place one comes from, whoever one may be or if one is familiar with local traditions and language.
Public labyrinths, such as the one in Zurich, that have been created all over the world in the last 25 years, all have a similar structure (like stations and airports but still very different from them) and therefore address the longing for „being at home away from home” in many places.