Can urban planning facilitate place attachment, social connection, and care through community engagement?



community activism, place attachment, place social-bonding, social connection, Community Engagement




This paper discusses whether and how urban planning practice could be reframed to facilitate increased place attachment, social connection, and care for neighbourhoods as part of plan making processes.  Cities worldwide continue to face urban growth pressures due to high rates of migration and structural demographic change.  Australian cities are a prime example of large cities experiencing strong population growth. Melbourne, for example, has experienced an annual growth of about 2% on average over the last decade (ABS 2022). This growth is playing out in both continued urban expansion through greenfield development and urban intensification byway of densification of existing low-rise suburbs. 

Urban intensification processes in Greater Melbourne are often conflict-filled, dealing with opposition from local communities in response to proposed changes.  Participatory processes employed to facilitate urban infill and associated city-shaping infrastructure are often considered ill-conceived which leads communities to protest as they do not feel heard (Legacy, 2016).  Whilst undeniably political, at a psycho-social level, such defensive behaviours aimed at protecting and serving the local area can indicate strong place attachment (Manzo & Perkins, 2006). Furthermore, a strong place attachment to one’s home or neighbourhood can be an individually and socially useful attribute because of a range of positive effects it can result in including positive health outcomes and environmentally responsible behaviours.  Yet the design of community engagement and public participation processes within these urban intensification environments are often ignorant of this psycho-social dimension of the conflict in Australia.

At the other end of the urban growth spectrum in Australian cities is greenfield development of large areas, usually constructed over many years for large populations. For urban planners this entails the difficulty that no residential community exists that can be engaged with using public participation processes. Land developers that develop larger master planned areas, however, often include community facilities in their estates to promote social connections amongst new residents thereby promoting the estate and land sales (Nicholls et al., 2017). 

This paper juxtaposes these two disparate planning scenarios and approaches to community development and engagement to consider their influence on the formation of social connections and fostering of place attachment.  It firstly considers the results from urban intensification case studies in Geelong, located near Melbourne.  The Geelong based research revealed how some residents expanded their social networks and place-social bonding as a by-product of their community activism in opposition to the local government’s proposals.  These results are compared with Melbourne’s new suburbs where communities are built from scratch, partly through organised community activities but also through communities of interest. Additionally, it is discussed what role urban planners can play in facilitating these new communities.

The paper considers the role and purpose of urban planning and community engagement in each context. In so doing, it discusses whether the remit of urban planning and community engagement processes need to be reframed to consider community development activities that potentially nurture place attachment, social connections, and care for neighbourhoods as an explicit objective of planning practice.

Author Biographies

  • Dr. Suzanne Barker, Monash University

    Senior Lecturer Urban Planning and Design

    Monash University

    Monash Art Design Architecture

    Department of Architecture

  • Dr. Annette Kroen, RMIT University

    Dr Annette Kroen is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Urban Research. Her research explores suburban growth areas, transport choice, social connectedness, resilience and the relation between disaster management and planning policy.


Legacy, C. (2016). Transforming transport planning in the postpolitical era. Urban studies (Edinburgh, Scotland), 53(14), 3108-3124.

Manzo, L. C., & Perkins, D. D. (2006). Finding Common Ground: The Importance of Place Attachment to Community Participation and Planning. Journal of planning literature, 20(4), 335-350.

Nicholls, L., Maller, C., & Phelan, K. (2017). Planning for community: understanding diversity in resident experiences and expectations of social connections in a new urban fringe housing estate, Australia. Community, Work & Family, 20(4), 405-423.

ABS (2022) Regional population. Available under: .