Community opposition to urban development in town planning: Two case studies of place attachment experiences of residents of the Bult, Potchefstroom, with specific reference to displacement literature

  • 0


The purpose of this article is to illustrate the relationship between the place attachment experiences of the residents of the Bult, Potchefstroom, South Africa, their opposition to town planning proposals, and displacement literature within the context of South African town planning. The empirical data for this research was obtained from two qualitative case studies from the Bult, Potchefstroom, South Africa.

The success of town planning as a discipline depends on a balancing act between the needs of town planners, developers, the municipal authority and the community in which a development project is to occur. In South Africa the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act, Act No. 16 of 2013, sometimes referred to as SPLUMA, dictates the accepted participation procedure for members of the public to give input regarding a specific town planning application. Such community input has to be formulated in the form of written objections that are then submitted to the municipality within a specified time frame.

It is unfortunate that the terminology of the town planning discipline refers to such community input as objections, as the word objection carries an inherent negative connotation. In reality, community input has been shown to make a positive contribution to development projects and can, in some cases, improve the original development plans. Given the underlying negative association with the word objection it is easy for town planners and developers to label community input as NIMBYism (NIMBY being an acronym for “Not In My Backyard”), instead of addressing the underlying issues that gave rise to the community’s opposition to certain town planning applications, such as, for example, their emotional attachment to places.

This paper starts from the point of view that town planners, and other actors in the urban development sector, can understand such community opposition better when the objections are viewed through the lens of displacement literature. Although these affective and intangible dimensions of urban places are increasingly being acknowledged as important within the realm of international town planning literature, little research on the topic exists within the South African context.

Place attachment refers to the intangible bonds that people form with specific places, as well as the processes that give rise to these people-place relationships. Literature on displacement, whether forced or voluntary displacement, has been of great value to understand the psychological and socio-economic impacts of disrupted place attachment on individuals and groups. Existing displacement research indicates that a disruption of place attachment can cause, in extreme cases, loss of property, homelessness, unemployment, marginalisation, a loss of communal resources, food insecurity, a decrease in health, and the loss of the socio-economic networks that support communities and individuals. Displacement is further linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression, and the indirect weakening of the socio-psychological resources that support human well-being.

While displacement literature often focuses on the disruption of place attachment due to large-scale disasters, political turmoil or development projects, there are instances where place attachment disruptions can be attributed to small-scale and incremental environmental changes. It is the latter which is of interest for town planners, as the majority of town planning applications result in small-scale incremental environmental changes to the urban fabric.

Individuals or groups can value places differently from other role players within the town planning discipline. Whereas members of a community can value a place from emotional and symbolic perspectives, developers, town planners and the local authority often value places from an economic perspective, which can lead to conflict between the community and the other town planning role players. Given that town planning proposals are expressed in technical language, the subjective, emotional community experiences such as fearing a loss of place or the psychological restorative qualities of a place are often disguised in technical terms to legitimise these objections. If these types of objections are viewed purely from the perspective of NIMBYism, the underlying motivations for individuals objecting to what seems to be a logical and economically sound development project cannot be understood clearly. The authors argue that these objections can be better understood when they are viewed through the lens of displacement literature as it relates to place attachment.

Two qualitative case studies were identified to explore this topic, both located within the Bult and relating to rezoning applications. One rezoning application outcome remained unsatisfactory from the community’s perspective, while the other rezoning application outcome was found to be satisfactory by the community. The Bult was considered an ideal location for the research topic as the area was – at the stage that the research was conducted – under development pressure. The area’s character was incrementally changing from a low-density historical suburb to one characterised by family homes being demolished to make way for larger-scale, high-density apartment developments.

The data-gathering phase of this research occurred between 2012 and 2014. Data was gathered from of archival documents (local municipal town planning records between 1983 and 2012), in situ open-ended site interviews, and participant-generated photographic data, along with input gathered from the interviews.

From the municipal archive two case studies were identified for this research paper. These town planning applications were of special interest as they generated an observable number of objections from locals, were reported in the local newspaper, and/or were points of discussion at local ward committee meetings. Over 300 individual objectors associated with these specific town planning applications were contacted, and individuals with vested interests at the time of these objections were approached to participate in the research after an initial interview to identify their role in the town planning process. In total, 12 individuals were selected for participation in the research.

The first case study is known as the Combrink House, one of the few houses built by South Africa’s first female architects, Nelly Edwards. Although not a listed heritage site, it was considered to be of historic value by the local heritage association and inhabitants. The Combrink House was demolished illegally, and eventually redeveloped as a medium-density apartment complex with business rights.

The second case study, P1 Restaurant, was located close to the Combrink House, and despite being of similar age as the Combrink House, it had little historic value due to multiple renovations over the course of its existence. The property was sold and the new owner converted the property into a sports bar-style restaurant, with none of the new extensions or land use changes being legalised within the local municipal system. Given the site’s proximity to the local university campus, it soon drew a large number of students for its client base, which led to increased levels of noise pollution, littering, traffic safety violations, and unsavoury social interactions between the restaurant’s management and clients, and the local residents.

The archival data was analysed thematically using structured coding. Interviews were conducted on the sites of the relevant case study properties, with participants creating their own photographic data. The same protocol was followed for both case studies. The interviews were based on four open-ended research questions focused on the participants’ place attachment and public participation experiences. The data was recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed using open coding.

Three themes emerged from the data: (i) Participants felt some form of attachment to the place involved in the case study. (ii) Environmental changes (potential or actual) played a role in their experiences of place attachment. (iii) Participants’ opposition to environmental changes due to land use changes seem to reflect, to some degree, the findings highlighted in displacement literature regarding disruptions to place attachment.

When comparing the interview data with the written community objections in the municipal archive, it became clear that the content of these written objections, on the surface, seemed to align with reasons for objections commonly associated with instances of NIMBYism. Yet the interview data reflects deeper underlying – and often emotional – reasons for participants’ objecting to the rezoning applications. By further comparing the interview and supporting photographic data findings with displacement literature, the authors identified from the participant experiences similar experiences of place attachment disruption as noted in displacement literature, although not to the extreme extent associated with cases involving natural or human-made disasters, political turmoil or large-scale development projects. Participants experienced, in some cases, loss of property, being emotionally forced from the place they identified as their home, loss in work productivity, marginalisation, anxiety, a decrease in mental health, and a weakening of the socio-psychological resources that supported their well-being (e.g. increased strain on their everyday living environment and the relationships with other individuals sharing their home).

Although the case studies are small in scale and localised, they illustrate that place attachment can, in some cases, be connected to community members’ opposition to town planning applications. Planning and developing urban environments lead to small-scale incremental environmental changes, which can threaten inhabitants’ place attachments and lead to individuals’ opposing the environmental changes. This research further illustrates that the underlying motivations for these objections can be better understood by viewing them from the perspective of displacement literature than purely from the viewpoint of NIMBYism.

Keywords: community opposition; displacement literature; environmental change; NIMBYism; place attachment; town planning


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Gemeenskapsweerstand teen stedelike ontwikkeling in stadsbeplanning: Twee gevallestudies van inwoners van Die Bult, Potchefstroom, se belewenisse van plekgehegtheid, met spesifieke verwysing na verplasingsliteratuur

  • 0


Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.