Place attachment in town planning: a literature review and proposals for Afrikaans terminology

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Place attachment is a concept that has been extensively studied since the 1970s, giving rise to a variety of definitions, depending on the perspective from which it was studied. The various perspectives are rooted in the space versus place debate around people-place relationships. Place attachment has also been studied within various disciplines, each discipline adding a unique view to the concept. This article is specifically written from a town planning point of view.

People-place relationship research is guided by basic assumptions about place or geographical location. On the one side of the fence, human-place relationships are seen as being rooted in the physical characteristics of a space, the result of cognitive and perceptual processes. On the other side, these relationships are social constructions, formed by individual personality traits and life experiences, as well as shared behavioural and cultural processes.

To understand place attachment and how it is formed, one has to understand the difference between space and place.

Space is a neutral medium. It is a region with physical dimensions and it contains objects; it is the physical environment as created by natural forces. Space is perceived through the senses and is different from the individual’s mental interpretation of the space. In other words, space is what is objectively measurable and therefore any geographical location on earth, without the presence of human meaning and symbolisation.

Place is a concept arising from space – it is a space on to which culture and history are engraved. Place can be defined as the physical characteristics of an environment with the meanings associated with it in everyday life. Place is space that has acquired definition and meaning. It is more than physical structure – it is a construction that is meaningful to an individual or group, that carries personal symbolism. Subjective human meanings are therefore cemented on to objective physical structures, turning space into a place.

Place can be seen as the root of human identity. It is central to the understanding of how people turn nature into culture (which in turn has a spatial influence on settlements), into a centre of meaning. Therefore, place is not only a physical manifestation, but an intricate part of what it means to be human – the physical environment cannot be separated from the affective side of being human.

As such, there are as many place meanings as there are individuals and groups that interact or feel a connection with a place. The meanings of places are rooted in their physical setting, objects and activities, and can be expected to change as the physical or social landscape changes.

From the descriptions of space and place one can therefore assume that place attachment, as an expression of people-place relationships, has to do with a definite subjective connection to place. An emotional bond cannot be formed with space – space has to be imbued with some symbolism before it becomes meaningful to the individual or group.

The first goal of this paper is to present a literature review of place attachment research as it relates to town planning (one of the various disciplines that create places for people). It has the potential to impact individuals' place attachment through urban development. It is important for town planners to be familiar with place attachment when planning and envisioning existing or new urban environments, as place attachment can mobilise members of a community to either support or oppose new urban development or redevelopment projects.

Three place attachment perspectives were identified from a review of place attachment research. The first perspective, the Instrumental Perspective, views place attachment as an instrument to understand human-place relationships to improve the management of a place. Attachments to places are mostly seen as utilitarian, and as such, places are not unique. Within the Instrumental Perspective, places are interchangeable if they fulfil the same function for the individual. Place attachment studies in the Instrumental Perspective rely largely on quantitative research methods.

The second perspective is the Symbolic Perspective. The Symbolic Perspective views place attachment as an emotional bond that an individual has with a place. This bond forms an integral part of the individual’s identity and psychological well-being. Within the Symbolic Perspective, places are unique. Destroying or changing a place's unique characteristics can cause irreversible damage to an individual's attachment to that place, disrupting his or her well-being. The Symbolic Perspective researches place attachment mainly from a qualitative perspective.

The third place attachment perspective identified from existing literature, the Integrated Perspective, is based on studies focusing on biophilia (the impact that urban vegetation has on the emotional state of an individual), as well as studies about the restorative aspects of favourite places. Within the Integrated Perspective, place attachment is a bond that an individual forms with a place because that place fulfils both psychological and physiological needs. The Integrated Perspective dovetails with the Instrumental and Symbolic Perspectives and often uses mixed-method research strategies.

Based on these three place attachment perspectives, an encompassing definition for place attachment is proposed. Place attachment can be defined as both (i) a product or end-state: a multilevel affective person-place bond that evolved from specific place conditions and characteristics of individuals, and the functional and emotional ties that connect places to people and (ii) a process that reflects the behavioural, cognitive and emotional embeddedness individuals experience in their socio-physical environments. Place attachment is thus both a continuous dynamic process and a flexible and adaptive end-state/product.

This article uses Scannell and Gifford's tripartite model to investigate place attachment. Place attachment is important for the town planning discipline in various ways. Town planners can threaten or disrupt people-place relationships through land use changes in an urban area. Disrupting or destroying place attachments can cause feelings of loss, grief, and psychological trauma to those involved. From a town planning perspective, place attachment can help urban planners to understand why individuals express grief and distress – seemingly illogical reactions – in cases of (seemingly logical) proposed land use changes; it can help urban managers to plan and encourage the manner in which the public uses public spaces; it can explain why individuals keep returning to or continue to stay in sub-standard urban conditions that may seem dangerous or unacceptable to outsiders; and it can shed light on individuals' and groups' place-protective or pro-place actions when changes to the environment are proposed or happen.

Given the importance of place attachment research in town planning, place attachment and related concepts need to be understood by town planners worldwide, as place attachment is an internationally occurring concept. The main terms relating to the concepts need to be translated into as many languages as possible if suitable terms do not already exist in those languages.

The second goal of this article is to create Afrikaans terms for place attachment concepts as they relate to town planning. A large body of international research exists on place attachment, with signs of a continued interest in the subject. The majority of sources available to South African town planning researchers, students and practitioners interacting with place attachment literature are in English; few sources are available in Afrikaans (or any of South Africa’s other official languages). Though a few Afrikaans terms were identified from existing Afrikaans place attachment research, they were found wanting in their definitions, unable to fully encompass place attachment terms in the town planning context. As such, there are virtually no Afrikaans place attachment terms that can be utilised in town planning research and practice. My own research in an Afrikaans-speaking community indicated the need to translate the English terms into Afrikaans, as research participants understand complex theoretical concepts more easily in their mother tongue. This terminology also enriches and expands the Afrikaans language through the proposed new terms.

An ad hoc terminology was created, as it is ideal for translating a discipline's specific technical terms from one language to another. Twenty-one terms from place attachment literature were identified and translated into Afrikaans. The proposed terminology will, however, need to be refined and expanded through future research, especially within the town planning and linguistic disciplines.

Keywords: Afrikaans; city planning; place attachment; terminology; town planning; urban and regional planning; urban planning

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Plekgehegtheid binne stadsbeplanning: ’n literatuurstudie en voorstelle vir Afrikaanse terminologie

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