The community is not a place and why it matters—case study: Green Square

Alison Ziller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Analyses of planning documents and a recent survey of practicing planners in NSW reveal that most planners treat ‘the community’ as a place or as place based. This usage is widespread and underpins most urban design principles and practice. The place‐based approach is associated with a focus on what happens within a place, what it contains, and on built or physical infrastructure. The language is of connectivity, legibility, permeability, access, the public domain and so on. However, sociological research does not support this interpretation of community as place. Recent neighbourhood studies, for example, consistently find that social and economic networks are not primarily place based except for a small number of identifiable population groups. Meanwhile, other strands of social research have been reporting for years that what matters in terms of the health and social wellbeing of a society or a city is relativities—the comparative status between neighbourhoods, the effects of relative deprivation, the impacts of relative inequality. Treating community as place and social wellbeing as primarily place based obscures the importance of these critical factors in social wellbeing and social sustainability. Recent planning initiatives for Green Square, including the Green Square Town Centre Masterplan provide current examples. The article concludes by demonstrating that if planning were to proceed on the basis that communities of interest and attachment are more important than communities of place and that relative equality is the key to health and social wellbeing, some current planning shibboleths would need to change. But the role for planners in social sustainability would also become clearer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-479
Number of pages15
JournalUrban Policy and Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Social planning
  • Social sustainability


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