Not in my backyard:
Community responses to higher density living – is it all in the mind?

Dr Wendy Sarkissian, Australian social planner and ethicist

Wednesday 29 May 2013, Allan Scott Auditorium, UniSA

Podcast available HERE
(MP3) 31Mb (or right click and select ‘save target as’ to download)
  – Written paper from Wendy
  – Powerpoint presentation
  – Dr Wendy Sarkissian’s guest blog

Wendy Sarkissian


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?


Audience at Sarkissian lecture


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.



The Hon John Rau, Minister for Planning and Deputy Premier



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


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.


Here’s a good review of the session and the issue from the Adelaide Review:



Minister John Rau and Dr Wendy Sarkissian

Planning Minister John Rau and Dr Wendy Sarkissian