The politics of place identity in peri-urban environments. What role for productive farming landscapes? A case study of Wollondilly Shire, NSW, Australia

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Peri-urban farmlands in the Sydney basin are progressively being taken over by housing developments. In addition, the viability of peri-urban agricultural operations is undermined by the liberalisation of agriculture in Australia. Finally, the arrival of newcomers and the associated loss of the farmers’ central position in peri-urban communities lead to the emergence of competing discourse on the peri-urban. Due to these mutations, peri-urban Sydney, like many other peri-urban landscapes worldwide, has become a contested space, where different social groups develop conflicting representations of what the ‘identity’ of peri-urban areas is. This thesis examines, through a case study of Wollondilly Shire, how farmlands and farming activities are marginalised in the peri-urban and how this trend might be reversed. To do so, a holistic framework of the ‘politics of place/landscape identity’ was developed, offering a heuristic tool for understanding how hegemonic, resistant and emergent place identities are produced in the peri-urban landscape. Two hegemonic place identities were identified, both contributing (sometimes inadvertently) to the marginalisation of agricultural activities. The first identity proposes to accommodate housing development while preserving agricultural uses through the maintenance of a sharp distinction between city and country. However, in planning practices, this rationale is used to characterise housing development as ‘in place’ and agricultural activities as ‘out of place’. The second identity promotes the development of low-density residential development throughout the countryside, leading to a consideration of farming as a nuisance in the landscape. Furthermore, a resistant place identity defended by farmers was identified, which aimed at reasserting farmers’ legitimacy in the peri-urban landscape, by considering farmers as using the land appropriately. As of yet, this resistant place identity has not sparked collective action amongst farmers and, therefore, does not renegotiate their roles in the peri-urban. Rather, farmers have developed formal and informal arrangements with various stakeholders, as well as adaptive strategies at the farm scale, which might lead to a renegotiation of their role in the peri-urban. In the discussion, barriers that might prevent the renegotiation of the role of farming in the peri-urban are identified, as well as ways to address them. Levers for policy change that were identified include the need to renegotiate the meaning of the notion of viability and move beyond a spatial planning based on the city-country divide. Actions that could be taken by farmers and the civil society are also identified.
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