Theology in Planning - an integrated theological framework for the planning process.

John Brunton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This interdisciplinary research in the field of public theology brings a different perspective to the theory and practice of urban and regional planning. It responds to the immediate need for an effective mechanism for integrating considerations of quality into discussions, deliberations, and decision making during the planning process. In Australian planning practice there is no recognised method for determining the standard of quality to be achieved when places are transformed. This deficiency is overcome with a comprehensive framework formulated to facilitate better outcomes by integrating considerations of the extent of anticipated change (quantity) with specifications for the desired quality of outcomes.

An interpretation of a theology of place is employed to determine enduring desirable and beneficial characteristics and qualities which are incorporated in the framework, and pursued in all phases of the iterative planning process. A definition of ‘place' in the Australian context supports this approach. Aspects of standard theological and scientific perceptions of ‘place’ are integrated into an Indigenous understanding of Country founded on relationships. By embracing this understanding, the framework recognises that each place is defined and described by complex multi-dimensional webs of relationships. This is shown to be consistent with the biblical concept of shalom, where relationships are essential for delivering wellbeing and achieving the common good. The framework adopts insights from biblical and theological interpretation which recognise that relationships extend across five dimensions of a place - the spiritual, ecological, social, economic, and governance dimensions.

The framework’s matrix structure recognises relationships between a place’s tangible, intangible, material, and abstract characteristics and qualities across these five dimensions on the vertical axis. Relationships between quantity and quality are verified within this structure. Eight enduring characteristics and qualities determined through interpretation of favourable biblical depictions of places are depicted on the horizontal axis. The qualities and characteristics are respecting and protecting creation, sustaining creation, community, justice, beauty, reflection and contemplation, creativity, and truth.

The framework’s capacity to promote better outcomes by facilitating effective discussion, deliberation, and decision making is illustrated through its application to four phases of the planning process. This demonstrates that it is a practical mechanism, which enables people to employ their creative skills to produce better results when plans for places are formulated and implemented. The potential for improved outcomes is shown through the example of Court proceedings where the framework was used to evaluate a development proposal and for preparing expert evidence. This substantiates that this theologically derived framework is comprehensive, effective, and practical because it enables beneficial and desirable characteristics and qualities to be pursued when places are transformed through the planning process.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Rees, Anthony, Principal Supervisor
  • Meyer, Ockert, Co-Supervisor
  • Baker, Christopher, Advisor, External person
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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