Reviewed by Isabelle Anguelovski, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This book, co-edited by Hernan Casakin and Fátima Bernardo, looks into the role of place identity in shaping a person’s perception, understanding and appreciation of their physical environment.

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The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments, Edited by Hernan Casakin and Fátima Bernardo, Bentham Science, 2012, 231 pp.

How are place attachment, sense of belonging, and place identity relevant to the experience of residents, urban planners, and architects in the built environment? A number of disciplines ranging from environmental psychology, geography, urban sociology, architecture, or urban planning have engaged at length with the concept of place identity – that is the part of our personal identity through which people express their belonging to a specific place. However, to date little attention has been paid to the relationships between identity, place, and urban design and planning. This is an important gap in theory, empirical research, and practice-oriented work that the wide diversity of chapters in The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments attempt to fill.

Not only does this volume provide insights into the diverse ways through which people experience their city or neighborhood and the ties they weave with it despite disruptions, change, and new developments. The authors also offer in-depth analysis about place (re)creation over time and the specific role of architects, developers, and policies (such as overcrowding ordinances, zoning, urban renewal and redevelopment) as they affect the identity of a place and the local value it has for residents. This intellectual concern is particularly relevant in a context of urban globalization, competition, integration, homogenization, and architecture’s obsession with modernism, together with demands for urban design originality and differentiation.

A few chapters (13,14) analyze those tensions very nicely as they uncover the multiple ways in which architects reshape cities and neighborhoods, and how many new projects and buildings create anonymity, vacuum, and disconnection for traditional residents. As place identity becomes reshaped, the built environment is at risk of losing its vitality and livability. Most of the authors also propose concrete recommendations for creating more holistic and deeper approaches to urban design through a variety of nicely documented cases studies – from the design of welcoming and useful spaces for elderly residents in Israel (Chapter 8) to the protection and enhancement of public spaces in informal settlements in Colombia (Chapter 7).

Despite these compelling insights, the volume is bit repetitive in regards to the theoretical frameworks or definitions offered in each chapter. It would also gain from an Introduction and Conclusion bringing all the chapters together and providing greater cohesion to the volume. It reads more like a – rich and detailed – collection of essays than a true edited volume with an original argument. The argument is not new that urban designers must understand people’s experiences of and expectations from places when they develop, (re)develop, or rebuild them. The book only alludes to the numerous conflicts and forms of contestation that arise over place transformation and place identity disruption, and how urban planners, designers, and architects confront these movements and conflicts. How does place identity in the built environment becomes reshaped and reasserted in light of resistance?

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