Mapping urban residents’ place attachment to historic environments: a case study of Edinburgh

Wang, Yang (2021) Mapping urban residents’ place attachment to historic environments: a case study of Edinburgh. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Place attachment refers to the positive emotional bonds between people and places. Disrupting place attachment has a negative impact on people’s psychological well-being and the health of their communities. Place attachment can motivate people’s engagement in civic actions to protect their beloved places from being destroyed, especially when buildings and public spaces are demolished or redeveloped in historic places. However, the UK planning and heritage sectors have made only limited attempts to understand people’s attachment to the historic environment and how it may influence planning, conservation and development that affects historic places. This draws attention to the lack of empirical studies on place attachment to the historic environment, and thus a need for place attachment research to develop methodologies that might address this gap. The research presented in this thesis sets out to explore urban residents’ attachment to the historic environment they experience in their daily lives and to apply a mapping approach to visualise this attachment.

A sequential explanatory mixed-methods approach, with a built-in mapping component, was used to pursue this aim. Edinburgh was selected as a single case study. A map-based PPGIS (Public Participation Geographic Information System) survey was designed and circulated among members of Edinburgh’s local civic associations and a Facebook interest group. The cross-sectional data collected during the fieldwork was analysed using various computational and spatial statistics. Twenty-five survey participants also took part in semi-structured follow-up interviews. The interview data were analysed using thematic coding.

The employment of a mapping approach originated from the intention to visualise historic places to where people form attachments. In the course of the research, it has developed into an EGIS (Emotional GIS) methodology for place attachment research, which the author proposes for use by other researchers, whereby spatially referenced emotional data are collected via map-based surveys, interrogated by spatial analysis and made visually explicit with maps.

This study provides a quantitative analysis of the author’s own self-reported measure of attachment to the historic environment, whereby a measurement theory of attachment to the historic environment was developed. The findings indicated that residents’ attachment to the historic environment can be described by a three-dimensional construct, comprised of an intellectual, an autobiographical and a nostalgic dimension. Qualitative findings then provided
deeper insights into the nuanced ways in which people develop these three attachment dimensions. More specifically, people can develop intellectual attachments to the historic environment as the consequences of aesthetic appreciation, imagination and self-reflection. They attach to their ‘lived-in’ and ‘remembered’ historic places and ‘reflect’ on such attachments as the result of growing a sense of ‘autobiographical insideness’. They also tend to yearn for historic places that have disappeared and for the happy moments in their lives.

Attachment to the historic environment was spatially operationalised as ‘special historic place’ and its spatial distribution was visualised. A spatial relationship between special historic place distribution and places that people use in their daily lives was then confirmed using spatial point process modelling, which highlighted the unconscious developmental process of attachment to the historic environment. Two types of special historic places stood out: historic open green spaces such as gardens and parks, and popular visitor attractions like Edinburgh
Castle, Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill. The underlying reasons, revealed in the qualitative findings, suggested two other attributes that make historic places emotionally significant — restorative potential and visual magnitude.

The nature of attachment(s) to the historic environment was also highlighted by examining the associations of those three attachment dimensions with sociodemographic variables through quantitative analysis, as well as probing the more latent social and cultural factors through qualitative coding.

The thesis therefore highlights the need to create an additional designation category alongside current ‘Listing, scheduling and designations’ in Scotland that appreciates, legitimises and protects the emotional values of historic places that are used, experienced and loved by people, and demonstrates the value of using a mapping approach for such an endeavour.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Supervisor's Name: Magdin, Professor Rebecca and White, Dr. James and Mason, Dr. Phil
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82345
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2021 13:21
Last Modified: 23 Jan 2023 08:34
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82345

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