Category Archives: Demographic change

Demographic change in Australia such as population growth and ageing and associated policies

Social sustainability: a framework for design integration

Framework for socially sustainable design – the Young Foundation (2011)

Social sustainability has long suffered from perceptions of it being  a somewhat “fluffy” addendum to urban design and masterplanning processes. So it is heartening to see a growing recognition of the positive impact of rigorous and systematic social planning and social impact assessment processes in the development of our urban environments. After all, what are successful places without people?

In this context, I’m excited about the publication of an excellent new report by the UK-based Young Foundation.

Design for Social Sustainability proposes a “framework for creating thriving new communities.” The esteemed Sir Peter Hall introduces the paper with references to the social cohesion questions that arose out of the recent London riots. He in part attributes this to the problematic aspects of environmentally-expressed social divides – an issue which is increasingly prescient in Sydney’s urban landscape. Social planning does not purport to solve such issues. But effective planning requires us to be fully conscious of them, if we are to enable the creation of communities that will endure – and indeed thrive – for generations to come.

The framework proposed through the Foundation’s report (pictured) offers some excellent food for thought for planners, social planners, urban designers, architects, approvals bodies and all those in professions whose work will directly impact on the liveability of our urban environments. This paper is well worth a close read.

 

Gentrification, place and value

‘The deep association that people have for place constitutes a vital source of both individual and cultural identity and security and acts as a point from which humans can orientate themselves in the world.”

(Relph, E., 1981, The Modern Urban Landscape, p.27)

Urbanisation.  Historically the product of the industrial revolution and the associated mass in-migration of the “working classes,” today we are facing the re-urbanisation of our cities and all its impacts – positive and negative.

Among urban sustainability professionals, the benefits of urban living in our comparatively wealthy western world need little explanation. Walkable neighbourhoods; reduced car dependency; higher density living and smaller homes, with their associated reduced ecological footprint; opportunities for increased localised social interaction facilitated by communal rather than private open spaces.

Our cities are places of vitality, dynamism, creativity, diversity.

Diversity. It is this word that leads us to reflect on the issue of gentrification and its impacts, currently so heavily debated in cities like Sydney.

Just last week the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article highlighting the pace of gentrification in Sydney’s inner suburbs. The local government areas of Marrickville and Randwick were the most rapidly gentrified areas of Sydney during the decade to 2006.

The article arose from the publication of a new report on gentrification by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, Gentrification and Displacement: The Household Impacts of Neighbourhood Change.

The report seeks to quantify the pace of gentrification in Sydney and Melbourne through analysing socio-demographic change characteristics recorded through the Census. These include the growth in the proportion of managers and professionals, high-income households, high-income renters, and people with a bachelor degree or higher. It also looked, conversely, at the decline or negligible growth in low income households and low income private renters. There is little doubt that this year’s Census will reveal more of the same, probably amplified.

As a resident of Newtown (in the LGA to which the report refers), and as an urban planner who wrote my dissertation on the gentrification of this very suburb in 1998, I have a particular interest in this report. My thesis was inspired by the genuine concern that the cultural melting pot that Newtown represented would soon be erased by the pace of gentrification that was gathering back then. That the socio-spiritual meanings woven into its physical fabric would be lost forever.

On my return from a decade living in London, in 2008, I was relieved to see that the Newtown I had loved was fighting on; its culture had not been erased.

So what exactly is the problem of gentrification? The AHURI report highlights issues such as rapidly increasing rents and house prices, associated increased overcrowding in shared houses, and the forced displacement of the neighbourhood’s historic communities – the Greek-Cypriots and Maltese (their children also unable to afford to live in the locality), the “blue collar” families, and more recent populations of low income earning creatives – actors, artists, writers.

The report states: “Those who had been evicted were often deeply angry at their enforced move. Those struggling to stay found themselves impoverished by hikes in their rents, but also feeling no longer at ease in [their] neighbourhoods.”

Over the past two years I have watched the very personal effects of this trend in Newtown. A case in point is the family down the road: the mother who had grown up in the terrace and spent her whole life there, brought up her children in the home and nursed her elderly, terminally ill mother there.  The house was recently sold from under the family’s feet by the absentee brother who inherited it. Unable to afford a home in the neighbourhood or any nearby, the family were homeless as of a week prior to their forced departure to make way for the professional couple moving in. I have no idea where they are now. The AHURI report features interviews with 30 residents who express their “significant sense of loss” at being displaced. This family’s sense of loss and disempowerment was palpable.

One of the interesting issues associated with gentrification is that the gentrifiers often do not perceive themselves as such. They identify rather with the edgy creatives, the students and the other socio-cultural groups whom they are effectively outsting.  They bemoan the impacts of the very trend of which they are a part.

Urban neighbourhoods look set to continue to be subject to these unstoppable economic forces. Yet there are ways in which the socio-cultural qualities of rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods – and, indeed, their residents – can be protected through policy mechanisms. These may include mandatory affordable housing provision in new developments, the protection of facilities such as low cost artists’ studios, and rent controls, as have been successfully enacted in New York City and other US cities for many years.

Urban and social planning policies will not slow the pace of gentrification. Indeed they more often than not encourage and facilitate it. Gentrification certainly brings benefits – revitalised retail areas, restored and protected historic buildings, infrastructure improvements which become viable due to the increased prosperity of a locality.

But good urban and social planning should also seek to mitigate gentrification’s adverse impacts. This needs to be a strong focus of government policy in Sydney’s inner suburbs, to ensure the social and economic balance sheet is carefully weighted.

This is not about social engineering. It is about ethical urban planning underpinned by principles such as the protection of equality and diversity. It is about recognising the cultural meanings embedded in our urban fabric. As Cresswell states (1996, In Place/ Out of Place: Geography, Ideology and Transgression, pp.8-9):”Value and meaning are not inherited in any space or place. Indeed they must be created, reproduced, and defended.”

Future proofing the new UTS library

Sydney’s University of Technology is about to undergo an exciting transformation.

With Frank Gehry on board as the starchitect of the new Faculty of Business, the process is underway to design a new high tech library, among other facilities.

Speaking with one of the staff who is instrumental in the library design process, the conversation turned to the challenge of future proofing community facilities which are being developed today. How can we begin to conceptualise how technology will transform our buildings, our urban environments, even in ten years’ time?

Along with applying flexible, adaptable, universal design principles to the process, UTS has engaged Gen Y-ers to talk about their hopes and dreams for the campus of their future. The university is conducting qualitative research with early high school students, questioning them about the kind of buildings and facilities in which they would like to study when they are older.

This is a smart approach which demonstrates the university’s willingness to learn from younger generations and its commitment to its future student population.

Genuine, open-minded engagement is one of the cornerstones of true social sustainability.  It’s great when that is recognised by established institutions.

Our urban nation

A longtime nation of coastal dwellers, Australia’s population is now one of the most urbanised in the world. It’s all in the numbers.

A total of 16 million Australians (80%) now live in cities and towns, according to Our Cities, the federal government’s urban policy discussion paper, which was published last month. By 2031, the Australian Bureau of Statistics predicts that 20 million of the estimated national population of 28 million will be urbanised.

It looks like most of us will have to get used to living in denser environments, in closer proximity to our neighbours. Our health and happiness will be increasingly dependent on the quality of our housing developments – not least the acoustic insulation.

Living Memory – public art as social history

Frasers Property’s landmark Central Park development is starting to take shape in Sydney’s inner suburb of Chippendale.  The scheme’s extensive public parkland is scheduled to open in mid-2011 and I’m particularly excited about Jean Nouvel’s stunning design for the central building, which is to rise from the rubble of the old brickworks, replete with “vertical hanging gardens.”

Frasers has recently announced its Artists In Residence (A.I.R.) public art project, which will be located at the site of the old brewery yard buildings and brick stack from March 2011.  Artists’ juicy brief for the A.I.R. initiative, from art advisor Michaelie Crawford, was to reflect “the history, fluids, processes and intoxications of the site’s brewing past.”

Living Memory by Andrew Brook

Artist Brook Andrew’s response, entitled Living Memory, will see large scale 3m high black and white portraits of some of the locality’s former residents adorn the old brewery building.

Brook’s evocation of Chippendale’s former resident labourers will offer a poignant reminder of the gathering pace of gentrification and social change in Sydney’s inner west.

Commuter suburbs and the erosion of social capital

Disconnected, the new book by Dr Andrew Leigh, MP for Fraser, explores the notion of declining social capital in Australia.

Social capital, which may be defined as the connectivity and cohesiveness of a community, is one of a number of aspects of social sustainability which is inherently difficult to pinpoint or measure.  Indicators of social capital which are applied by Leigh include civic participation through organisational membership such as union membership or political party membership, along with participation in community activities such as volunteering or participating in local sports clubs.

The decline of social capital with which Leigh is concerned he in part attributes to our growing commuter culture, and the increasing distances – and associated times – people spend travelling to and from work.

Leigh’s hypothesis highlights the critical need for significant investment in public transport in western sydney. The issues associated with socio-economic deprivation in swathes of Sydney is exacerbated by chronic underinvestment in transport infrastructure. While I would not wish to simplify what are inherently complex social issues, one thing is clear. People forced to suffer long journeys to work have so much less time and energy to become involved in those activities which may enhance social capital in suburbs where it is so desperately needed.