Not in my backyard

Community responses to higher density living - is it all in the mind?


Wednesday 29 May 2013



with Dr Wendy Sarkissian, Australian social planner and ethicist

Podcast available HERE (mp3 format 31MB)

Why is there such strong community resistance to proposals for higher density housing in Adelaide's neighbourhoods?   Aren't people just being unreasonable and ignoring the need to make our cities more sustainable?  Isn't Adelaide's 30-Year Plan what we must have to be sustainable - despite community resistance?

Australian social planner and ethicist Dr Wendy Sarkissian, who has lived and worked in Adelaide for many years, believes that so-called NIMBY responses to housing density increases are both reasonable and helpful. And she's been testing her theories in workshops in Canada, the USA and Australia. Recently, she spoke about this topic to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Dr Sarkissian argues that neighbours are resisting proposed higher density housing because humans, like all animals, are hard-wired to protect our territories. Further, the 'core territory' of home is one to which we have the strongest place attachment. It has strong symbolic as well as psychological importance.

Naturally, instinctively, we will defend our homes and neighbourhoods at all cost.

That means that unless planners, designers, governments and developers understand and respect this 'instinctive' response, the battles will continue. And unless community engagement approaches are sensitive to the deeply emotional nature of these responses, those processes will fail to support sustainability initiatives.

Proposing her "Homing Instinct" approach to housing design and community engagement, Wendy argues that two things need to change. We need housing that is more 'home-like'. And we need engagement processes that reflect greater emotional intelligence than the processes we currently employ.

Reflections from Minister for Planning and Deputy Premier John Rau post the lecture.



Wendy SarkissianCanadian-born Wendy Sarkissian migrated to Adelaide in 1968 and has spent many years living and working in this city, as well as other Australian cities and regions. She holds a Masters of Arts in literature, a Master of Town Planning (Adelaide) and a PhD in environmental ethics (Murdoch University).  Currently Adjunct Associate Professor, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, Adjunct Professor, Bond University, School of Sustainable Development and recently Adjunct Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia, Dr Wendy Sarkissian is passionate about housing, communities and community engagement. She is committed to finding spirited ways to nurture and support an engaged citizenry.

Building a career as a social planning consultant in Australia when there was no such discipline, she has pioneered innovative planning and development approaches in a wide variety of contexts. This work has learned over forty professional awards.  Dr Sarkissian was made a Life Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia in November 2011. She has served on Boards in South Australia and Queensland and is the award-winning author and co-author of eight books on housing and community engagement.

She has just returned to Australia from a month teaching in the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. She received an enthusiastic response to her presentation on NIMBY and density issues at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.


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