Sense of Place

Sense of Place

A FOCUS ON SENSE OF PLACE
Walkable environments are required to enhance the sense of community and social capital by encouraging and facilitating social ties or community connections through opportunities for residents to meet, interact and engage in their neighbourhood. Mixed-use planning and the presence of a variety of destinations also promote walking which in turn increases the sense of community or social capital through the facilitation of interaction between residents.

  1. Source: Leyden KM. (2003). Social capital and the built environment: the importance of walkable neighborhoods. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9): 1546-1551.
  2. Source: Lund H. (2002). Pedestrian Environments and Sense of Community. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 21 (3): 301-312.
  3. Strange, C., et al. (2014). “The essence of being connected: the lived experience of mothers with young children in newer residential areas.” Community, Work & Family: 1-17.

Defining 'Sense of Place'

The term ‘sense of place’ is often used to describe the prevailing character or atmosphere of an individuals’ relationship with a place.   It is used in relation to those qualities and characteristics that make a place special or unique, and that makes people feel connected to a location and foster a sense of human attachment and belonging.  The cultural identity and heritage of a place, through the degree to which it contains visual reminders of its past through preservation can also help to create a sense of place.  A report by English Heritage found adults who live in areas of higher concentrations of historic environment and who cite a local building or monument as special are likely to have a stronger sense of place, [1] self‐esteem and place attachment. [2]

A space that is has a good sense of place is more likely to become a great place that people want to part of.  Key attributes to develop in ‘place making’ include:[4]

Access and Connections:

  • A place needs to be easy to access from surrounding transport and nearby attractions as well as connected to the wider area.
  • The design should be legible and permeable, with a pedestrian focus.

Uses and Activities:

  • A place should have a range of uses and activities occurring from day to night, from season to season. It needs to be convenient for local daily activities through to unique events.

Comfort and Image:

  • A place needs to be safe, clean and comfortable to be in, while also being attractive and appealing, with its own character and sense of history. Great places exhibit an attention to detail.

Sociability:

  • A place should promote co-operation and neighbourliness, it should be welcoming and non-exclusionary. A great place connects people with other people.

Sensing Physical Activity & Health

A good sense of place can foster a positive emotional attachment to a neighbourhood and community, levels of interaction between members of the community and formal participation or involvement in neighbourhood and community organisations.  Research indicate that good social networks and connection and community involvement has positive physical and mental health consequences. [5, 6]  A growing body of evidence suggests that the way we design and build our neighbourhoods and communities’ affects resident’s social connections, sense of community and social capital and thus their levels of physical activity and mental health. 

Cycling, walking and public transport use can stimulate casual social interaction on the streets as well as have health benefits, through physical activity, for residents.  Walkable environments therefore help to enhance sense of community and social capital by encouraging and facilitating social ties or community connections through opportunities for residents of all ages to meet, interact and engage in their neighbourhood. [7-9]  Moreover, mixed-use planning and the presence of a variety of destinations and schools located within walkable distances encourage the local community to walk to local services, facilitates and schools which in turn increases the sense of community or social capital through the facilitation of interaction between residents. [7] Community design also has the potential to create social inclusiveness through the design of facilities and spaces that encourage meeting, gathering and social interaction.  Understanding how the design and layout of our neighbourhoods impacts on residents’ social connections and interactions and their sense of community is therefore important is therefore essential for the development of new communities.