A Passion for Place

Planning scholarship tends to shy away from the emotional realm and planners in practice assert their distance from attachment. The policy of neighbourhood planning in England is unusual in that it addresses people’s emotional commitment to place, or their place attachment.


Human geographers would argue that the relationship with place is largely unconscious and is felt in the bones. Place is not a backdrop or a setting from which we stand distinct; instead emplacement, like embodiment, is a condition of being. Although individuals are confronted with a reality of place ‘out there’, which they may invest in meaning for themselves, places are already imbued with meanings that govern expected behaviour and social interaction. We talk about people being put in their place. Place is tied up with power relations and behavioural norms.

(c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationPlace attachment and place identity are the stuff of community planning and community activism.  But community groups have to make people feel passionate enough about their place to mobilise them into action to defend it or improve it. The construction of shared place meanings by community organisations has been theorised through the concept of place framing[1]. I have drawn on the social movement concept of collective identity to develop the new idea of place identity framing. The theory of collective identity allows me to broaden the notion of place framing to include the emotional connections between place and personal and collective efficacy. The concept of place identity frames enables connections to be drawn between place attachment and social movement and community campaigns.

Place identity frames can be understood as an assemblage of three collective identity processes: the demarcation of boundaries, the production of a repertoire of shared values, and the promotion of collective efficacy or belief in the ability to bring about change. These place identity frames and the identity work of place framing can be observed in neighbourhood plans. Neighbourhood planning in England provided a statutory process of plan-making and popular referendum through which place identity frames could be assembled and assented to by communities.

(c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationNeighbourhood plans are assembled around a social construction of place characteristics and values. This entails the construction of a place identity frame. The task of the frame is not just to assert a common identification of place but to invite participants to see themselves as acquiring value through place membership. In defining a neighbourhood, those leading the neighbourhood plan seek to forge a connection between the characteristics of place and a positive social identity. A recurring theme in neighbourhood plans is an address to the social identity of place. Neighbourhood characteristics are defined to encourage feelings of enhanced self-worth. In shaping the look and feel of place, neighbourhood planning groups may also attempt to change the way people are put in their place.


This is an excerpt from my chapter in the forthcoming book ‘Neighbourhood planning and localism: power to the people’ to be published by Policy Press next year.

[1] Martin, D. (2003) Place-Framing as Place Making: constituting a neighbourhood for organising and activism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Vol.93, No.3: 730-750


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