Developing Community Identity in a Rapidly Changing Community

  • Annabel Cuff University of Malta, Malta
  • Andrew Azzopardi University of Malta, Malta
  • Olga Formosa University of Malta, Malta
  • Paulann Grech University of Malta, Malta
Keywords: community identity, community cohesion, access to green spaces, desire for shared spaces and activities, place attachment


The significance of a sense of community is widely acknowledged in the literature. Communities bring their members networks of connections that can shape aspects of their behaviour, social interactions and identities. However, development and modernity are challenging the roles of communities, with weaker social bonds and less neighbourly behaviours on the rise. In a young community known for its terraced family homes, as well as its villa area, recent changes in construction permits are bringing rapid changes, not only to its aesthetics, but also to the density and nature of its residents. This paper, which is based upon a study of the community of Iklin, examined the impact that recent changes are having through the views of the residents via a questionnaire, interviews and a focus group. Using the Iklin study as a model for a mid-sized town or village in Malta, this paper examines which factors contribute to a sense of community cohesion and identity. This discussion posits that, like Iklin’s residents, when faced with an ever-changing community of inhabitants that do not feel like they belong, the inhabitants of our towns and villages, will value green spaces as amongst the most sought-after factors within communities, along with a desire for shared spaces and activities. A craving for a sense of community remains present, coexisting with an appreciation for a level of anonymity and distance that is also valued by many.


Agius, R. (2018, October 20). How has the Maltese village changed over the years. TVM News. Retrieved from
Azzopardi, A., & Formosa, O. (2022). Iklin Community Project. Poulton’s Ltd.
Australian Government. (2010). The meaning of privacy. Australian Law Reform Commission.
Blackshaw, T. (2010). Key concepts in community studies. SAGE Publications Ltd.
Boissevain, J. (1986). Residential inversion: the changing use of social space in Malta. HYPHEN, Vol. V(2), 53-71.
Bonaiuto, M., Aiello, A., Perugini, M., Bonnes, M., & Ercolani, A. P. (1999). Multidimensional perception of residential environment quality and neighbourhood attachment in the urban environment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19(4), 331-352.
Bonanno, A. (1981). Two archaeological sites recently discovered at l-Iklin. Hyphen, 2(5), 212 – 220.
Bonnici, C. (2009, February 15). Għeluq is-sittin sena mit-twaqqif ta' Lija Athletic F.C. - rinnovazzjoni li saret fil-klabb. Festa tas-Salvatur, [Lija], 67-73.
Bradshaw T. K. (2008) The Post-Place Community: Contributions to the Debate about the Definition of Community, Community Development, 39:1, 5-16.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77-101.
Brown, B., & Perkins, D. (1992). Disruptions in place attachment. In I. Altman, & S. M. Low (Eds.), Place Attachment (pp. 279-304). Human Behaviour and Environment: Advances in Theory and Research, Vol. 12. Springer, Boston, MA.
Brown, B., Perkins, D. D., & Brown, G. (2003). Place attachment in a revitalizing neighbourhood: Individual and block levels of analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology 23(3), 259-271.
Brown, B. B., Perkins, D. D., & Brown, G. (2004b). Incivilities, place attachment and crime: Block and individual effects. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(3), 359–371.
Brown, B., & Werner, C. (1985) Social cohesiveness, territoriality and holiday decorations: the influence of cul-de-sacs. Environment and Behaviour, 17(5), 539-565.
Brown, G., Brown, B., & Perkins, D. (2004a). New housing as neighbourhood revitalisation: place attachment and confidence amongst residents. Environment and Behaviour, 36(6), 749-775.
Buttigieg, J. (2013, August 25). Development at Iklin (1). Times of Malta. Retrieved from
Buys, E., & Bow, V. (2002). The impact of privacy on social capital. In Social Change in the 21st Century Conference Proceedings: Refereed Conference Papers (pp. 1-16). Queensland University of Technology, Centre for Social Change Research.
Carmona, M., Tiesdell, S., Heath, T. & Oc, T. (2003). Public Places Urban Spaces: The Dimensions of Urban Design. Oxford: Elsevier.
Casakin, H., Hernández, B., & Ruiz, C. (2015). Place attachment and place identity in Israeli cities: The influence of city size. Cities, 42(B), 224-230.
Christens, B. D. (2012). Targeting empowerment in community development: A community psychology approach to enhancing local power and well-being. Community Development Journal, 47, 538–554.
Christens, B. D., Speer, P. W., & Peterson, N. A. (2016). Assessing community participation: Comparing self-reported participation data with organizational attendance records. American Journal of Community Psychology, 57, 415–425.
Clarke, S., Gilmour, R., & Garner, S. (2007). Home, Identity and Community Cohesion. In M. Wetherell, M, Laflèche & R. Berkeley (Eds.). Identity, Ethnic Diversity and Community Cohesion (pp. 87–101). London: Sage.
Copus, C. (2015). In defence of councillors. Manchester University Press.
Copus, C., Sweeting, D., & Wingfield, M. (2013). Repoliticising and redemocratising local democracy and the public realm: Why we need councillors and councils. Policy and Politics, 41(3), 389-408.
Council of Europe (2000). European Landscape Convention [webpage]. Retrieved July 16, 2021, from
Cuba, L., & Hummon, D. (1993). A place to call home: Identification with dwelling, community, and region. Sociology Quarterly, 34(1), 111-131.
De Battista, J. V. (2015). Postal Diary 21st August 2015- 24th November 2015. Journal of the Malta Philatelic Society, 45(1), 34-47.
Debono, J. (2022, August 21). Changing towns: a profile of Malta in 2022. Malta Today. Retrieved from:
Deener, A. (2010). The ‘black section’ of the neighbourhood: Collective visibility and collective invisibility as sources of place identity. Ethnography, 11(1), 45-67.
Devine-Wright, P. (2009). Rethinking NIMBYism: The role of place attachment and place identity in explaining place-protective action. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 19(6), 426–441.
Dixon, J., & Durrheim, K. (2000). Displacing place-identity: A discursive approach to locating self and other. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39(1), 27–44.
Easterbrook, M. J., & Vignoles, V. L. (2015). When friendship formation goes down the toilet: Design features of shared accommodation influence interpersonal bonds and well-being. British Journal of Social Psychology, 54(1), 125–139.
Engel, L. C., Kington, A., & Mleczko, A. (2013). The influence of education on community cohesion: Adaptation of policy to practice. The Journal of educational research, 106(5), 408-418.
Faculty for Social Wellbeing (2022). [internal findings]. University of Malta.
Feldman, R. M. (1990). Settlement-identity: Psychological bonds with home places in a mobile society. Environment and Behaviour, 22(2), 183-229.
Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class. New York: Basic Books.
Gillespie, A. M., Obregon, R., El Asawi, R., Richey, C., Manoncourt, E., Joshi, K., & Quereshi, S. (2016). Social mobilization and community engagement central to the Ebola response in West Africa: Lessons for future public health emergencies. Global Health: Science and Practice, 4, 626–646.
Gray, D., & Stevenson, C. (2019). How can “we” help? Exploring the role of shared social identity in the experiences and benefits of volunteering. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 30(4), 341–353.
Haapala, A. (2003). The Urban Identity: The City as a Place to Dwell. In V. Sarapik, & K. Tüür (Eds.), Place and Location III (pp. 13-24). Estonian Academy of Arts.
Haslam, S. A., Jetten, J., Postmes, T., & Haslam, C. (2009). Social identity, health and well-being: An emerging agenda for applied psychology. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 58(1), 1–23.
Haslam, S. A., Postmes, T., & Ellemers, N. (2003). More than a metaphor: Organizational identity makes organizational life possible. British Journal of Management, 14(4), 357–369.
Hernández, B., Hidalgo, M. C., Salazar-Laplace, M. E., & Hess, S. (2007). Place attachment and place identity in natives and non-natives. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27(4), 310–319.
Hidalgo, M. C., & Hernández, B. (2001). Place Attachment: Conceptual and Empirical Questions. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21(3), 273-281.
Hodges, J. M., & Gore, J. S. (2019). Social connections and well-being: With whom do you identify and why? Psychological Studies, 64, 436-446.
Hui, E. C. M., Zhong, J., & Yu, K. (2012). Mobility and work-residence matching for new immigrants in Hong Kong. Habitat International, 36(4), 444-451.
Involve (2024). Community Cohesion and Participation – a practical framework. Retrieved February 4, 2024, from
Iklin Scout Group (n.d.). Home [Facebook page]. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from
Jacobs, J. (1961). The death and life of great American cities. New York: Random House.
Kersting, N., & Vetter, A. (Eds.). (2003). Reforming local government in Europe. Opladen: Leske + Budrich.
Kwok, K. O., Li, K. K., Chan, H. H. H., Yi, Y. Y., Tang, A., Wei, W. I., & Wong, S. Y. S. (2020). Community responses during early phase of COVID-19 epidemic, Hong Kong. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26, 1575-1579.
Kyle, G., Graefe, A., Manning, R., & Bacon, J. (2004). Effects of place attachment on users’ perceptions of social and environmental conditions in a natural setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(2), 213-224.
Laurence, J. (2009). The effect of ethnic diversity and community disadvantage on social cohesion: A multi-level analysis of social capital and interethnic relations in UK communities. European Sociological Review, 27(1), 70-89.
Lewicka, M. (2011). Place attachment: How far have we come in the last 40 years? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31(3), 207-230.
Lidström, A., Baldersheim, H., Copus, C., Hlynsdóttir, E. M., Kettunen, P., & Klimovský, D. (2016). Reforming Local Councils and the Role of Councillors: A Comparative Analysis of Fifteen European Countries. In S. Kuhlmann, & G. Bouckaert (Eds). Local Public Sector Reforms in Times of Crisis. Governance and Public Management. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Lundqvist, H. (2011). Is it Worth it? On the Returns to Holding Political Office. Job Market Paper, IEB Working Paper N. 2013/014. Retrieved August 1, 2021 from
Madanipour, A. (1996). Design of Urban Space. Wiley, New York.
Malta Local Government (n.d.). History [webpage]. Retrieved June 26, 2021, from (2019). Festas in Malta and Gozo [webpage]. Retrieved from,2023
Manahasa, E., & Manahasa, O. (2020). Defining urban identity in a post-socialist turbulent context: The role of housing typologies and urban layers in Tirana. Habitat International, 102, 102202.
Ministry for Health, Malta (2020a). B’Kara Health Centre [webpage]. Government of Malta. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from
Ministry for Health, Malta (2020b). Malta Community Clinics [webpage]. Government of Malta. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from
National Statistics Office (NSO), (2022). Census of Population and Housing 2021: Preliminary Report. National Statistics Office, Malta.
Ng, S. H. (1998). Canada as a new place: The immigrant’s experience. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 18(1), 55-67.
Obst, P. L., & White, K. M. (2005). An exploration of the interplay between psychological sense of community, social identification and salience. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 15(2), 127-135.
Oktay, D. (2002). The quest for urban identity in the changing context of the city: Northern Cyprus. Cities, 19(4), 261–271.
Ortiz-Ospina, E., & Roser, M. (2020). Loneliness and social connections [webpage]. Retrieved from Our World in Data. Retrieved from
Putnam, R. D. (2007). E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and community in the twenty-first century. The 2006 Johan Skytte prize lecture. Scandinavian Political Studies, 30(2), 137-174.
Putnam, R. D. (2001). Social capital: Measurement and consequences. Canadian Journal of Policy Research, 2, 41-51.
Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster. (2020). Familja Mqaddsa. Holy Family [webpage]. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from
Ratanakosol, K., Pathumcharoenwattana, W., & Kimpee, P. (2016). Learning process for creating community identity. In SHS Web of Conferences (Vol. 26, p. 01067).
Reicher, S., Cassidy, C., Wolpert, I., Hopkins, N., & Levine, M. (2006). Saving Bulgaria’s Jews: An analysis of social identity and the mobilisation of social solidarity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 36(1), 49-72.
Rorty, R. (2007) Philosophy and Cultural Politics: Philosophical Papers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Saliba, M. (1998). Core and Periphery: The Effects of Peripheral Urban Development on a Traditional Maltese Village Centre: A Case Study of Għaxaq. [Bachelor dissertation, University of Malta]. Open Access Repository. Retrieved from
Savelkoul, M., Hewstone, M., Scheepers, P., & Stolle, D. (2015). Does relative out-group size in neighborhoods drive down associational life of Whites in the US? Testing constrict, conflict and contact theories. Social Science Research, 52, 236-252.
Schaap, L., & Daemen, H. (Eds.). (2012). Renewal in European local democracies. Wiesbaden: Springer VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Shao, Y., Lange, E., Thwaites, K., & Binyi, L. (2017) Defining Local Identity. Landscape Architecture Frontiers, 5(2), 24-41.
Stolle, D., & Harell, A. (2013). Social capital and ethno-racial diversity: Learning to trust in an immigrant society. Political Studies, 61(1), 42-66.
Sturgis, P., Brunton-Smith, I., Kuha, J., & Jackson, J. (2014). Ethnic diversity, segregation and the social cohesion of neighbourhoods in London. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(8), 1286–1309. DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2013.831932
Swanwick, C. (2009). Society's attitudes to and preferences for land and landscape. Land Use Policy, 26(1), S62-S75.
Tam, H. (2007). The case for progressive solidarity. In M. Wetherell, M. Laflèche, & R. Berkeley (Eds.), Identity, ethnic diversity and community cohesion (pp. 17-23). SAGE Publications Ltd.
Vidal, T., Troffa, R., Valera, S., & Fornara, F. (2012). Place identity as a useful psychological construct for approaching modern social challenges and new people-environment relations: Residential mobility, restorative environments, and landscape. In H. Casakin, & F. Bernardo (Eds.), The Role of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and Design of Built Environments (pp. 78-91). Bentham Science Publishers.
Vidal, T., Valera, S., & Peró, M. (2010). Place attachment, place identity and residential mobility in undergraduate students. PsyEcology, 1(3), 291-307.
Wang, Y., Yang, C., Hu, X., & Chen, H. (2020). Community identity as a mediator of the relationship between socioeconomic status and altruistic behaviour in Chinese residents. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 31, 1–13.
Wetherell, M., Laflèche, M., & Berkeley, R. (Eds.) (2007). Identity, ethnic diversity and community cohesion. SAGE Publications Ltd.
Xin, Z. Q. (2020). Social governance psychology and social psychological service. Beijing, China: Beijing Normal University Press.
Yang, C., Wang, Y., Hall, B. J., & Chen, H. (2020). Sense of community responsibility and altruistic behaviour in Chinese community residents: The mediating role of community identity. Current Psychology, 0(0), 1-11.
Young, M., & Wilmott, P. (2013). Family and kinship in East London. Routledge.
Age group distribution of questionnaire participants