Place attachment as a motivation for community preservation: The demise of an old, bustling, Dubai community

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This paper describes how Dubai’s top-down redevelopment strategy affected residents of Sha’biyat Al Defaa’ and Sha’biyat Al Shorta, or Army and Police Colony, a densely aging Dubai neighbourhood. The article draws on an original ethnographic case study, including field observation, interviews with residents and local press reports. Findings show that redevelopment demolished this old neighbourhood to appeal to economic elites without making any effort to preserve any of its social, economic or emotional value to residents or the larger community. In doing so, Dubai sacrificed the wellbeing of a vulnerable population. I draw on the concept of place attachment to interpret this case’s significance for planning and preservation theory and practice. Place attachment conceptualises affective ties to both physical settings and the relationships and memories that such settings support. This study gives planners, policy makers and preservationists new evidence that attachment to land and community are important motivations for expanding historic preservation into concerns for community preservation. Conventionally, historic preservation concerns itself primarily with built landscapes; this paper argues that individuals’ feelings and bonds to social settings can be used as engines for preservation. The paper concludes that Dubai’s top-down planning model does not sensitively capture the needs of low-income communities. It argues that in advocating preservation and mitigating displacement impacts, city planners must pressure the state and developers for more affordable housing policies and projects, and must establish service programmes that provide technical and economic assistance to city residents who face eviction.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)2973-2997
Number of pages25
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number13
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • Dubai
  • low-income housing
  • neighbourhood and community preservation
  • place attachment
  • urban redevelopment


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