Exploring sense of place as a restorative urban planning tool : Marabastad, Kroonstad as a case study
This dissertation aims to explore how planning can utilise sense of place as a restorative tool in areas where people have been forcibly removed during the Apartheid era. Limited research has been conducted regarding sense of place in South Africa. However, the South African context has been highlighted as important for sense of place due to its multi-cultural background. Many communities' relationships with their environment have been disrupted through forced removals during the 1950s to the 1990s as a consequence of the Apartheid legislation, more specifically in view of the Group Areas Act of 1950, that had at its core, ruthless racial segregation. The influence of forced removals has been widely documented in international literature, including several South African studies and revealed the negative impact of forced removals on communities during and following the Apartheid political dispensation. One of the negative spin-offs is a loss of sense of place and residents’ sense of belonging. The physical relocation of these societies still remains to have implications for the relational connections of people and places, namely their sense of place. In the academic discourse, sense of place is often described as a complex, elusive and vague concept. Certain scholars, regard sense of place as a subjective and personal feeling towards a place while others view sense of place as incorporating the objectively shared attributes of the environment and the subjectively distinctive experiences thereof. Sense of place is conceptualised as either physical constructions, individual experiences or social constructions. However, sense of place should preferably be viewed as multi-dimensional and includes tangible attributes (e.g. physical environmental features) and intangible attributes (e.g. personal symbolic meanings). It is often the intangible attributes that are neglected within the planning process. Marabastad, Kroonstad, was selected as a case study to explore sense of place as a restorative urban planning tool. The city council decided to demolish Marabastad in 1984, validating their decision in view of the derelict state of the built environment, inevitably resulting in the destruction of the residents’ living environment and ultimately uprooting their way of urban life. In the early years, during the construction of the newly allocated areas for the residents 4 km away from Kroonstad, families frequently returned to Marabastad to utilise schools, churches, shops and the vibrancy of social activities to which they understandably had a strong connection with. The Marabastad community is considered as a point of reference to explore their sense of place where this community wants or may well requires, to be relocated back to their original neighbourhood. The research followed a qualitative research methodology due to the fact that this type of research explores social phenomena (people’s relationship with their environment namely sense of place) in-depth. It was decided to utilise a case study design in attaining an in-depth comprehension of a complex topic in its real-life context. The first research method, a transect walk, was employed to generate rich qualitative data regarding the research setting in collaboration with the research participants. Secondly, focus group discussions were applied in order to expand upon the data that had already been generated, also to obtain an in-depth understanding of participants’ sense of place. Data obtained from the above applied research were verbatim transcribed and analysed according to thematic analysis. The findings reveal that the participants experienced sense of place in terms of positive memories of the historical Marabastad and are of opinion that the history, familiar to them, ought to be preserved for future generations. Marabastad is generally remembered as a neighbourhood with a quality designed spatial environment, close social relationships and positive emotional experiences. Due to forced removals during the Apartheid era, residents experienced a loss of sense of place as an outcome of a deteriorating spatial and built environment, social change and negative emotional experiences. Hope of a restored sense of place was expressed in terms of the active involvement of different role players, namely the community and local government, the restoration of a good quality past spatial and built environment as well as fulfilling the community’s needs through new development. Marabastad as a case study is perceived as an example of a South African community that experienced (and is still experiencing) a significant loss of sense of place due to its unfortunate forced removal by the former Apartheid regime. The research endorses the important role of the spatial/built environment in influencing communities’ sense of place, as it was suggested in academic literature published during the 1960s-1980s. However, it also confirms the shift in recent academic literature (2007-2017) where sense of place is viewed as a comprehensive and integrated phenomenon including psychological and social aspects. In conclusion, the case study strongly suggests that sense of place is context dependent. In this case, specific spatial, social and psychological aspects contributed to the sense of place in Marabastad. Sense of place is applied in this study as a tool for restorative spatial interventions in a context where a loss of sense of place is experienced, while hope for a future restored sense of place, is anticipated. Considering sense of place as point of departure, recommendations to restore the sense of place in Marabastad, amongst others, include the reconstruction of past buildings/structures to restore positive past memories, the upgrade and expansion of existing areas/facilities to restore the quality of the spatial environment and suggestions for new development to address future hope. In conclusion, planners ought to take cognisance of the integratedness of sense of place and how it may well be employed as an important point of reference for planners as a restorative tool.