Planning the intangible : place attachment and public participation in South African town planning
Local opposition to town planning applications creates time delays for developers, town planners, and municipal authorities, while also increasing financial costs associated with development. For local communities, opposition means considerable time and financial investment to protect the place they live in from unwanted development. Place attachment, which develops as a result of experiences with or in a place, is one of the reasons why local communities oppose land development – this reaction towards proposed land changes is often considered NIMBYist. Although disciplines such as natural resource management already trained its focus on the influence of place attachment as a motivating factor in participatory planning intentions internationally, it is not clear whether there exists a relationship between place attachment and public participation in South African town planning processes. As such, the aim of this research is to explore the relationship between place attachment and public participation in a South African town planning process. This research focuses on the lived experience of place attachment of residents of the Bult area of the Tlokwe Local Municipality in the North West Province of South Africa, and the role that place attachment experiences played in their participation in a town planning process. The research design is qualitative, using archival data, located participant interviews, and supportive photographic data to explore the lived experiences of 18 participants from three case studies. The data was analysed thematically. The data indicated the link between actual or potential incremental changes through town planning actions in an urban environment and the impact these changes had on the well-being of the residents of that place. The effect of incremental urban changes, actual or potential, motivated participants to participate in the public participation process of rezoning applications in order to oppose the environmental changes. These potential and/or actual environmental changes also led to place protective actions outside the formal participation process. This research indicates that due consideration should be given to opposition to town planning applications, as it can in fact be driven by deeper emotional reasons that cannot be expressed in the legal and technical language associated with the town planning discipline. These reactions should not be considered in a negative light by developers, town planners, and municipal authorities, as they can provide insight on what types of land use changes can implemented successfully in a place. To this effect, a life cycle relationship between place attachment and public participation in a town planning process (as it happened in the three case studies) is proposed as a point of departure for future research. A suggestion is made to incorporate place attachment in urban planning practice.