APPEA Environmental Conference, November 2011

APPEA Environmental Conference, November 2011

I speak to national and international audiences on a range issues about social planning and design, community engagement, housing density and planning and housing.


I address a range of topics such as: community engagement for sustainability, creative community engagement,   engagement by children and young people, caring for Nature, supporting an engaged citizenry, housing for real people, housing density (what works and what doesn’t work) and creating inspired places people love.

Regional Victoria Join the Conversation…

Thursday 9th May 2013, Ballarat, Victoria



AILA Symposium image

Sponsored by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, Victoria, this fascinating day allowed participants to explore the joys and challenges of working in the regions.

We addressed these pertinent questions:

  • Is there a common ethos shared by regional communities?

  • Is working with this group of people different to working with urban communities, and if so, how?

  • Do they share a stronger sense of ownership?


This Symposium was seen as the first step in what will hopefully be a series of conversations about working in regional Australia.


I used recent rural community engagement advice from the Scottish Government to frame my presentation on rural community engagement. Here is the handout I provided:


UK using_the_standards_in_rural_communities


For a video of the presentations, click here:


To see my PowerPoint, click here:


Ballarat Sarkissian powerpoint FINAL

Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University 22 February 2013

I spoke to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University in February 2013.




My topic was about the role of psychology in helping us understand (and address) negative community reactions to proposed housing density increases.


That was one of the most exciting professional experiences of my life because of the very positive responses I received from many people who attended.

Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre

Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre Address, May 2013

Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre Address, May 2013








In May 2013, I spoke to a packed audience at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at the University of South Australia.

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?I argued 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 my “Homing Instinct” approach to housing design and community engagement, I argued 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.

The packed room indicated strong community interest in this topic

The packed room indicated strong community interest in this topic

Selected recent keynote addresses


  • HEAL Rally in support of the Manly Hospital, Northern Beaches, Sydney, 3 August 2013
  • Regional Australia: Join the Conversation, Ballarat, 9 May 2013
  • Australasian Housing Institute, Sydney, 5 June 2013
  • Better Planning Network conference, Parliament House, Sydney,   20 May 2013
  • Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, NIMBY Psychology, 22 February 2013.
  • Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, Adelaide, 29 May:



  • University of British Columbia, Symposium on CityPlan, 12 October 2013.
  • Hong Kong Community Planning Conference, September 2012: seminars, workshop and conference paper.
  • City of Adelaide, “Smart Start” breakfast, keynote address on “Homing Instinct”, June 2012.
  • Ecclesia Housing, Sydney, one-day seminar on “Homing Instinct”, June 2012.
  • Place Leaders Association, National Champions seminar, Adelaide, June 2012.
  • IAP2 SpeakOut event, keynote address to “Engagement without Borders, Melbourne, May 2012


  • Planning Institute of Australia, 2011, workshop on creative community engagement, 2011 in Adelaide and Sydney.
  • Woodford Folk Festival: December 2010, Great Green Debate: “The Spirit of Resistance (still) Lives!” with S. Sorrensen and Penelope Swales for the Affirmative Team (which lost).
  • Also: Woodford Folk Festival: Keynote presentation in the GREENhouse: “Kitchen Table Sustainability”



  • Keynote Address, “Kitchen Table Sustainability”, EAROPH Jubilee Congress, Adelaide, November 2010
  • KidSafe WA “Nature of Play” Conference, Perth, April 2010: “The restorative power of parks and public spaces: What works and what doesn’t work?”
  • Woodford Folk Festival, December 2009, Great Green Debate: “Resolved that the Media Can be Trusted”, with Ian Lowe and Joanne Bragg for the Negative team (which won).
  • International Association of Public Participation conference, San Diego, September 2009, Keynote Address, “Kitchen Table Sustainability”
  • Urban Development Institute of Australia, Western Australia, Sustainability Conference, August 2009: “High-density Housing: what Works and What Doesn’t Work?”
  • Urban Development Institute of Australia, July 2008, “Kitchen Table Sustainability,” Inaugural Queensland UDIA Community Engagement Summit, Brisbane, 16 July.
  • ISOCARP 43rd Urban Planning Congress: Urban Trialogues, 20 September 2007: “Kitchen Table Sustainability: Tested recipes for bringing the sustainability debate down to Earth”, Antwerp, 20 September.
  • Asia-Pacific Cities Summit, August 2007: “Urban Nature for Everyone: The Value of Natural Places in Cities for Tourists and Local People”, with Catherine Zheyu Zhou, August.
  • Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Entrepreneur Masterclass,20 February 2007: “When Generations Collide At Work: Strategies for Working Effectively in Today’s Intergenerational Workplaces”.
  • International Association for Public Participation, Conference, Montreal, November 2006: “Trading Places: How a major recent Perth development project turned a developer into a “green social planner” AND how a community came to understand and care about  a developer’s profits” keynote address with Darren Cooper, Mirvac, Perth.
  • International Conference on “Making Places Profitable”, Sheffield, UK, September 2006: Keynote address, “Blind Freddy Could See it: Reflections on Effective Community Engagement in a Large Public-Private Partnership Housing Project.”
  • World Planners Congress, Vancouver, Canada, 19 June 2006: “Giving Voice to Nature in Community Engagement.”
  • Caledon Institute, ANC National Policy Forum on Neighbourhood Revitalization, Ottawa, Canada, 25 October 2005: “Engaging Citizens in Neighbourhood Revitalization: Some Insights from Australian Practice.”
  • A Place at Table for Nature IAP2 2005, keynote address, IAP2 International Conference,  Portland, October 2005
  • United Way, Toronto, Toronto Community Forum, 27 October 2005: “Second-Generation CPTED and Community Renewal: Lessons from Queensland, Australia.”
  • Life in the Urban Landscape Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, June 2005: “Madness, Intransigence and Old Hurts: Dealing with Emotion in Community Engagement.”
  • Community Arts Network of Western Australia (CANWA) Forum, July 2005: “The Artistry of Community Consultation.”
  • Residential Development Conference, Property Council of WA, Perth, May 2005: “The Social Stigma of High-Rise Development or A `CAN DO’ Approach to Higher Density Housing in Western Australia.”
  • EcoEdge Conference, Melbourne, 9-12 February 2005:”How much do planners hate Nature and what can be done about it?”
  • Creating Child-Friendly Cities Conference, Brisbane, October 2004: “Community engagement by children and young people in Australia”, with Elyssa Ludher.
  • `Chautauqua’ Extravaganza of Participatory Planning and Design, University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 2004: Keynote and workshop presenter, Chautauqua, nine lectures and workshops on subject ranging from community engagement to environmental ethics.
  • International CPTED Association Conference, Brisbane, September 2004
  • Urbanism Downunder Conference, Auckland, NZ, February 2003: “Listening to the softest voices: consulting children and Nature in planning public spaces in residential areas.”
  • Best Practice in Parks Forum, Sydney, April 2002: Keynote address: “What if we asked the parks “¦ about park design?”
  • ALIA: Public Libraries National Conference, Melbourne, November 2001: “The Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water: Welcoming the Voices of Nonhuman Nature into Community Participation Processes.”
  • “Mine and Body”: keynote Environmental Law Assoc 2000 keynote address, Queensland Environmental Law Association, 2000
  • “Listening to the Softest Voices:  Finding Hopefulness on the Path With Heart”: keynote address, Pathways to Sustainability Conference, Newcastle, 1997
  • “Listening to all the Voices”: keynote address, Main Streets and Small Towns Conference, NSW, 1997

With Dr Ann McAfee, World Planning Congress, 206

With Dr Ann McAfee, World Planning Congress, 2006