Urban intensification in Geelong, Australia: Drawing on behavioural insights and attitude theory to explain resident responses to higher density housing


  • Suzanne Barker Monash University


urban intensification, place attachment, cognitive bias, community engagement, behavioural insights




Resident opposition to urban intensification is often framed pejoratively as NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard) to describe where residents object to urban infill planning proposals with the assumption they are motivated by self-interests such as maintaining property values. Public commentators also identify resident opposition as an influential obstacle to urban intensification in Australian cities, which is exacerbating the housing affordability crisis in and contributing to a deepening intergenerational divide between older property owners and younger renters who have been locked out of homeownership.  This characterisation however does not contemplate the possibility that resident attitudes towards densification are influenced by psychological or cognitive factors, or place attachment and care.  This paper examines two case studies in the Australian city of Geelong.  Geelong is the State of Victoria’s second largest city, located about 70km from Melbourne.  The municipal city council prepared and proposed two separate Urban Design Frameworks (UDFs) in line with compact city policies to intensify two inner city locations within Geelong.  The research draws on the concept of place attachment and its sub-constructs: place identity; place social-bonding; place affect; and place dependence.  The paper also considers the Heuristic Systematic Model (HSM), a theory of persuasion, to help understand resident attitudes towards the UDF proposals. The research utilises knowledge from judgement and decision-making and dual cognitive theories to explain how people process planning information. In particular, the research relies on behavioural insights to describe under what conditions the human mind utilises heuristics or mental shorts or cognitive biases compared with more systematic or deliberative thinking.  The paper considers quantitative and qualitative data collected from surveys and interviews with residents from the West Geelong and South Geelong case study locations to show the usefulness of the HSM as a framing theory. The study reveals the importance of resident satisfaction with community engagement processes as a key factor to predict the likelihood of their support for the planning proposal.  The paper considers the importance of community engagement processes in urban planning practice as a way to encourage systematic or deliberative thinking processes to counter cognitive biases.