The View from Eveleigh Street

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Photo by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Dean Sewell.

There could be trouble ahead in Redfern. I can remember when, in search of affordable hotel accommodation attending a conference at Sydney Uni in 1998, I stayed in nearby Chippendale. The hotel manager warned me not to walk the streets after dark, a warning I ignored because walking was the quickest way to get back from the campus. I didn’t encounter anyone, just observed a lot of Koori flags hanging from the rundown terrace houses. My only other direct experience of Redfern is gazing out the train windows, a quick drive through once or twice, and the portrayal of the suburb (and the Block) on the excellent ABC series Wildside (now being repeated on Monday nights after Lateline).

I’d been wondering how long the developers could be held back from such a strategically located inner-city area.

ELSEWHERE: A former Redfern Councillor suspects mixed motives in the Carr Government.

Redfern’s reputation certainly doesn’t encourage a sight seeing tour for interstate visitors. The inner city suburb is home to the Block, managed by the Aboriginal Housing Company since 1970, and the site of frequent controversy, most recently over the death of Indigenous teenager T. J. Hickey in February. Redfern has also been in the news recently because of the actions of Sydney Archbishop Cardinal Pell in appointing conservative Priests from the Neo-Catechumenate movement to St. Vincent’s, once the parish of Fr Ted Kennedy and a hub for the Indigenous community – a subject of some discussion a while back in comments on one of Ken’s posts, and documented here.

Now Redfern has returned to the SMH headlines, with a report uncovering a Carr Government $5 billion plan:

to redevelop Redfern and the surrounding suburbs that involves seizing control of Aboriginal housing on the Block and letting private developers take over two-thirds of the area’s public housing estates.

Under the 10-year plan, the Government will tear down the residential towers in Waterloo and privatise $540 million worth of public assets in a bid to double the area’s population to 40,000, create 20,000 new jobs and give the central business district room to expand. In a major piece of social engineering, 20,000 new private renters and owners will be brought in to balance out the 7000 public housing tenants in the area, many of whom are poor, old and disabled.

A number of issues are raised by this plan – the over-riding of Clover Moore’s Sydney City Council, the possible future pressure by new residents to force out public tenants, and probably most significantly, the degree to which such a solution actually responds to the endemic social problems of Australia’s largest inner-city Indigenous community. Not to mention the perennial issue of self-determination. I’m not particularly hopeful about the eventual outcome – I strongly suspect the SMH is right that what is driving this plan, and the creation of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, is profit rather than the public good.

In Joh-era Brisbane, the Government dealt with a similar area, South Brisbane, by bulldozing it for the World Expo 88 site and relocating public housing to outer suburbs with few services and job opportunities. This action, characterised by special planning laws and a sweetheart industrial deal with the AWU, was little remarked on at the time by a supine media growing rich on real estate ads. The only noticeable public opposition came from welfare groups, public radio 4zzz-fm and two Catholic priests, Fr Dick Pascoe of Graceville (never mentioned in the Courier-Mail without the addition to his name of the prefix “Red”) and Fr Peter Kennedy of the local St. Mary’s Catholic Community (another social justice oriented inner city parish also in the news lately for departing from the Vatican line).

Subsequent promises after the site was redeveloped as Southbank to maintain sightlines to Highgate Hill, and to provide public housing were not kept as public space was hived off for expensive apartment developments, cafes and retail and pseudo-monuments to political egos like the Grand Arbour and the “World’s Greatest Boulevard” (formerly Grey Street). And the Goss Government introduced site-specific legislation giving security guards quasi-police powers which were mostly used to move on and ban Indigenous youths.

State governments often take planning powers into their own hands with the justification that local governments are too close to developers. Ironic, really…

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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derrida derider
derrida derider
2021 years ago

You’re probably absolutely right about the motives, but it is hard to think how things could be made worse in Redfern. Starting from such a low base almost any change must be for the better.

Redfern is currently a monument to thirty years of political cowardice and hypocrisy – all in the name of empowering ‘local culture’ and ‘community leaders’

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

“I’d been wondering how long the developers could be held back from such a strategically located inner-city area.”

Developers and Redfern have had a synergistic relationship for a very long time. The suburb is actually a hotch potch of deprivation and gentrification, million dollar restored terraces and brutalist, concrete slums-in-the-sky, the Block (about 0.1% of Redfern’s total area) and the post-yuppie acreage of Moore Park Gardens, funky cafes and Beirut-blind shopfronts .

A major conundrum in all of this is the fact that “Redfern” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Everyone has a stake in deciding what the area should be like, particularly those who don’t live there….

The towers need to come down, aboriginal housing needs to be rehabilitated, there needs to be a healthy mix of public and private housing options but I’m not entirely sure as to how directive planning should or can be past that point. Planning shouldn’t be about social engineering, it should be about providing the kinds of built environments in which people can kind of engineer society for themselves.

BigBob
2021 years ago

I worked in Redfern for over six years, walked down the streets to get to uni.

It was poor, it was rundown but I never, ever felt unsafe there unlike anywhere near Kings Cross or in the outer west or south-west late at night.

The area does need redevelopment and renewal, badly.

But this plan looks like a land grab.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

BigBob, that was kinda my feeling in Chippendale.

I have no doubt that you, DD and Geoff are right that the area needs renewal – and it’s unclear whether this has been done – but I wonder if any note has been taken of successful urban renewal plans in comparable areas in the States (there were some – one notable one being in Bedford-Stuyvesant in NYC originally set up by RFK). I doubt it though – it appears to be the usual Oz thing of displace the Blacks and hand the burb over to the developers to be reconstructed as yet another indestiguishable yuppie “precinct”.

BigBob
2021 years ago

I am sure you are right Mark. When it comes to property development as a means of profit making, Australia must be close to top of the heap.

Never get between a developer and a piece of developable real estate.

Toryhere
Toryhere
2021 years ago

Let me see. There has been a problem for 30 years. All the band-aid lefty, social justice ways of fixing it (including those wonderful ghettoes in the sky in Waterloo) have all failed. The area is a disgrace. We need all the land we can get c;lose to the heart of this great city. Yet all you bleeding-hearts are immediately against it because someone might make a profit.

Have you ever thought that public housing is much more beneficial when it sits amongst normal houses, not in huge ghettoes. Having visited someone in one of the tower blocks in Waterloo, I can tell you that the miasma of despair is potent in those places. And there is little relief from it, because the inmates only see each other and well-meaning but ineffectual social workers. If these residents were housed in the general community, they would rub shoulders with a far broader variety of people, but more importantly they would see some of the socially advantaged as well as the socially disadvantaged and be given an example of success that they could use to better their lot.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Toryhere, you shouldn’t assume because I’m critical of the Carr government’s actions I am defending tower housing in Waterloo. In point of fact, I think that the current approach of the Qld Department of Housing and the Brisbane Housing Commission which is to move away from segregating public housing in ghettos and integrating it into both suburban areas and gentrifying inner city areas is the correct one.

Toryhere
Toryhere
2021 years ago

Mark,

I did not assume that you were in favour of public housing in tower blocks. But I did assume that you were somehow concerned that a plan for vastly improving one of the nastiest areas in Sydney should be halted because a few people may actually have to come to grips with the long standing problems of Redfern/Waterloo. Let’s face it, all the “social worker” solutions for the disadvantaged people of the area have failed, because the people are still disadvantaged and are still there.

My concern is that the useless Carr government will cock up the whole thing. Firstly there is a danger that they will listen to the “victim” groups and try to prevent the cleansing of “the Block” and other local eyesores. Secondly, it is also likely that the Government will find be flodding the market with more land at a time when propoerty prices have already decreased markedly as a result of the stupid Vendor Duty.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Toryhere, I think that urban planning works best if it takes into account the interests of all stakeholders. The legislation setting up the Redfern-Waterloo Authority gives the Minister too much power.

I also think that the social problems of the Indigenous community in Redfern need addressing separately from questions of land use.

Alex
Alex
2021 years ago

Anyone interested in Redfern/urban planning issues should find this article interesting.
http://www.smh.com.au/news/Opinion/Better-urban-design-can-bring-community-together/2004/11/30/1101577483827.html?from=storylhs

terrij
terrij
2021 years ago

Can someone out there tell me where the Redfern Waterloo public tenants will be relocated to and if there will be infrastructure to meet their needs. What consultative measures were taken to meet the “needs”of the residents or even inform them of the RWA’s powers to remove them from their homes. Non-government Peak agencies appear to have been involved “somewhere” along the line. Will residents who are relocated have to sign a renewable tenancy lease which enable the amendment to the Tenancy Act Acceptable Behaviour Agreements (ABA) which by the way applies only to public (social) housing tenants; to be used as a “big stick”approach. Once this RWA starts the demolition of public housing in these areas, where will it stop? Heritage laws will be overturned and this will apply to all areas that will involve Private dwellings too and I can envisage that the “Richer”areas will also be up for grabs and where will the heritage protection of some of the magnificent buildings/homes in NSW be? Once a law is passed here it appears to be hard to have it amended once it attracts profit/gain of money. Remember too that whatever party is in Government always cry “it was the previous party” that changed the law and most times nothing is done to address the issue.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Terri, you raise some valid points. I think the NSW government is saying that the public tenants will stay in the area but in new accommodation. What concerns me is whether a really heterogenous and accepting community will develop.

TerriJ
TerriJ
2021 years ago

Mark,
Thanks for your reply. I have been informed that there are plans to have some public housing tenants included in the restructuring of Redfern/Waterloo.
Part of this plan is to have a mix of elderly tenants (who of course will be hand picked) to live in the new partnership projects.
I am led to believe that this will appear to satisfy all the parties. Whether this will be heterogenous time will tell.
Once these tenants die I guess the properties will revert back to private ownership, as I cannot imagine owners wanting to rent to DoH as an ongoing prospect.
DoH will of course subsidise rents, the renewable tenancies act will have satisfied the government’s commitment to the “relocation within areas” scheme and everyone (maybe not the people directly involved) should be happy.
What is the guarantee that the new high-rise projects under private ownership/lease will not become slum!! ghetto’s!! after all it is the lessee that makes or breaks the buildings.

I would like to suggest to Toryhere that rubbing shoulders with people that are more affluent doesn’t make the person; if you look past the shoulder you will find people that have talents that have been suppressed/altered because of circumstances that are beyond their control.
You say the inmates at the Waterloo high-rise only see each other, perhaps you could help organise some outings for your friend and the other inmates…Would relocating people change their status? Just a thought!!

If there had been measures placed to vet the mix of people or a realistic look at the needs of the people and the money made available to meet these needs the face of public housing as the general public see it would show the love and care that has gone into making these “ghetto’s” home.

As I am new to this talk back page I would like to wish everyone a Safe and Happy New Year. I look forward to contributing and learning.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Terri, and a happy new year to you as well.