The Art of Engagement: The politics of public participation and paying attention in place making practice for urban planning

Melissa Nursey-Bray1, Susan Oakley1

1University Of Adelaide


In an increasingly urban and climate change-challenged world, there is a necessity to build connections between spaces, people and environment. Urban spaces require the engagement of citizens to create and shape them into unique signifiers of connection, residence and activity in cities and regions.  Further, Australian cities built on Indigenous country need to find modes of engagement that reconcile the tensions caused by the historical yet enduring invasion of space and place. Placemaking is one mechanism by which connections can be forged and bridges built between these tensions; and become, in and of itself, a mode of community engagement for all citizens. This paper, drawing on Citton’s Ecologies of Attention, interrogates how the use of public art as placemaking can catalyze public participation and engagement with place, environment and culture in cities, change public space and build modes of reconciliation. I argue that art as community engagement becomes a tool that can generate participatory and co-engendered place narratives that in connecting urban ecologies have the facility to build integration between people and place in cities.


Melissa is a human geographer who is interested in the relationship between people and place, and the ways in which communities become involved in environmental decision making. She has explored this relationship in the context of marine/coastal spaces, Indigenous country and urban settlements. Her current work focuses on the geographies of climate adaptation and what inhibits and drives community engagement in this space. She is the Director of the ACE (Adaptation, Community, Environment) Research Cluster, and Head of Department of the Department of Geography, Environment and Population.


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

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