Sensing liminal landscapes in Puget Sound

Puget Sound's shorelines are "liminal landscapes" that can inspire senses of "escape, transformation, and human creativity," according to a 2021 paper in GeoJournal. That may have regional policy implications as coastal researchers increasingly recognize the need to incorporate community inclusion and 'sense of place' in management decisions. The paper includes findings from a 12-county survey aimed at gauging residents’ sense of place for Puget Sound’s liminal shorelines.

Puget Sound shoreline at sunset. Photo by Jeff Rice. All rights reserved.
Puget Sound shoreline at sunset. Photo by Jeff Rice. All rights reserved.

Extended Abstract

Marine shorelines provide unique opportunities and benefits to coastal residents and visitors. The overused cliché of enjoying “long walks on the beach,” colloquially and somewhat comically illustrates the attraction of such places for recreating, contemplating, wandering, socializing, and allowing such blue spaces to contribute to one’s wellbeing. Building upon marine shorelines’ uniqueness and recent geographic research, the author frames Puget Sound’s shorelines as liminal landscapes. Liminal landscapes are spaces that emanate a sense of in-betweenness, ambiguity, transition, and threshold. Liminal landscapes also provide distinct times and places where people can experience senses of escape, transformation, and even creativity. Liminal landscapes provide distinct human-environment interactions, experiences, and relationships, as evinced through coastal residents’ sense of place, or people’s connections and meanings associated with place. Shoreline management, planning, and policy should reflect these distinctions; however, traditional approaches or frameworks likely do not fully capture such nuances or complexities, like what or how shorelines benefit and contribute to coastal communities and their senses of place. This nuance and distinction is particularly pertinent in coastal areas experiencing rapid change, like population growth, urban development, infrastructure installation (e.g., shoreline armor), or sea level rise, where not only are shorelines shifting, but likely too are the connections, fealties, and relationships of residents to the coast. Building upon recent sense of place and liminal landscape research, the author implemented a 12-county survey (n = 413) aimed at gauging residents’ sense of place of Puget Sound’s liminal shorelines. The results demonstrate that residents do have a sense of place of the region’s shoreline, notably a strong place attachment. Residents also imbue the region’s shorelines with a diverse range of place meanings, notably feeling (feelings, emotions, or sentiments, e.g., “calm”), inherent (tangible intrinsic or seemingly innate aspects, e.g., “nature”), and connection (attachments, senses of belonging, and any sort of connection or relationship, e.g., “sense of home”) meanings. Some residents also seem to grasp and imbue the region’s shorelines with a sense of its liminality or liminal meaning (thresholds, fringes, in-between spaces, but also spaces of escape, transformation, and freedom, e.g., “overall a sense of freedom’’). These findings provide a unique perspective for coastal research and management, which increasingly recognizes the need for community inclusion, including communities’ senses of place, and social science approaches.


Trimbach, D.J. Sensing liminal landscapes in Puget Sound. GeoJournal (2021).


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About the Author: 
David Trimbach is an interdisciplinary social scientist at Oregon State University with a background in human geography (PhD) and urban studies (MUS). As a community-oriented, place-based, and policy-driven professional with nonprofit, academic, and public service experience, he seeks to explore and create more equitable and vibrant communities.