An enormous number of us end up with homes in planned communities. This is great if the planning was great, but even in great planned communities, a distinctive aspect of so many little towns is lost. I think that distinctive aspect is spontaneity; breathing room for a place to take on an unexpected character and to adopt unplannable place-names and stories.

I’m thinking of this because I’m back in Ave Maria for a few days on a trip for the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. Ave Maria is a beautiful, entirely planned place. It’s distinctive character is Catholic, so every street name is intentional in that way—Annunciation Circle, John Paul II Street, Seton Street, etc. It’s a fantastic place where the names create a beautiful energy.

But beautiful energy isn’t a part of the plan in most planned communities. Chris Buchignani writes that in the Nittany Valley, the street names are memorials. Garner Street: Samuel Garner, a State College landowner and farmer. Gill Street: Rev. Benjamin Gill, longtime chaplain. Locust Lane: named for trees bordering the street. McAllister Street: Hugh N. McAllister, early booster and designer of Penn State’s first Old Main. Park Avenue: formerly “Lovers Lane.”

All of this comes from “History of State College, 1896-1946,” which Chris draws on to make the point that it’s often the details that enrich our lives, so it’s worth learning to keep our eyes open for them and pick up on them.

Not every house is a home. Neither is every community a place.