All philosophy of value begins with human desire, and geographers observe that humans desire, value, and seek to possess places for two general reasons. They value a place because of unusual things, processes, or activities that occur in that place, or because it stands at a strategic point on the way to such a place and is thus necessary for defense, conquest, or trade. By convention these are referred to as site values and situation values. These are, obviously, related, because the value of any particular site depends not only on the properties of that site, but also on the circumjacent situations that make that site secure or vulnerable, accessible or isolated. The value of any particular situation depends entirely on the value of the site to which it serves as a gate way. The value of any particular place is, in other words, never absolute but always dependent on a system of places in which it is but one component. The value of a place also depends on the people who make use of that place. No place is naturally valuable simply because its land is productive, its harbor is deep, or its hills are filled with gold; it becomes valuable only once it falls to the hands of a people who desire and know how to make use of such things as fertile soil, a generous anchorage, or a precious metal. The value of any particular place depends on the culture of those who control it. The value of a valued place is always, in short, relational; among these relations the most important are relations to constituent properties, relations to other places, and relations to the evolving desires and techniques of human inhabitants. Changes in culture will consequently cause change in the geography of value. When popular ambitions change, or when old
ambitions are pursued in new ways, once-valued places may loose their luster and cheapen, while places never before appreciated disclose unexpected merits and attractions. One has only to consider how a growing popular desire for a suntan raised the value of seaside prop erty, or how large-scale mechanized farming reduced the value of hill farms. Some places on earth are not simply more valuable than others, but only presently more valuable. The face of the earth is littered with places that once were highly valued but now are sadly depreciated because the site was degraded, the larger spatial system shifted, or the desires and techniques of inhabitants changed. Value therefore has a history as well as a geography, and we may well speak of a historical geography of value. Human geography is very much a matter of values, but these are fugitive values. The remainder of this chapter will attempt to account for this, paying particular attention to the United States.