International Bachelor of Science
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
Laurenson, Beth, Flat-Packing the Suburbs, IKEA, Tempe, and a Sense of Place, International Bachelor of Science, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, 2012.
This thesis explores the influence of recently-arrived big-box retail stores on the senses of place of residential populations. It aims to further the understanding of challenges posed by big-box retailers to surrounding communities – beyond the narrow economic focus previously dominating the literature. A range of human geographical theories are used to investigate senses of place of Tempe residents, and whether the 2011 opening of IKEA Tempe has influenced these senses. A mixed-methodology comprising interviews – both sedentary and mobile – and mental mapping was used to capture responses from residents. This method collected spatial and biographical data. Results offer new insights into the influence of big-box industry on senses of place. First, senses of place were found to be informed by resident’s shared experiences of three phenomena: gentrification-related community transition, post-industrial economic shifts, and place attachment. Despite such shared phenomena, senses of place were complex, plural, and often conflicting at the individual level. Second, IKEA’s influence on senses of place was overall subtle, though not without complexity. On the one hand, IKEA did not upset local residents or dramatically unsettle their senses of place. In some cases, IKEA was viewed through a middle-class lens as putting Tempe "on the map" and redressing the suburb’s stigmas as a downtrodden, dirty place. On the other hand, material attachments to the place – and in particular to homes – were influenced very little at all. Some tensions were created because of resulting traffic management and streetscape changes, and these challenged conceptions of a strong "community spirit". Nevertheless, residents accommodated IKEA’s entry into the suburb and the retailer made only minor changes to most people’s everyday practices, rhythms, and movements. I argue that, as additions to suburb assemblages, incoming big-box retailers influence not only economic conditions but social and cultural landscapes. I call for deeper research into this phenomenon by exploring other locations where gentrification and big-box retail coincide through globalisation. Much scope exists to expand this research and to better inform those responsible for urban planning of the proclivities of local communities.