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.

The rise of social sustainability

Sustainable communities–it’s the catchphrase on everyone’s lips as 2010 draws to a close.  Companies are using it in their annual reports, developers are embracing it, the federal government has put out a policy paper on it and now the Green Building Council is not only developing a tool for it, but plans to include the concept in all its Green Star tools. But what does it mean? Does it herald a fundamental shift in the way we think about cities? Or is there a whiff of spin and greenwash about the whole conversation?

So writes journalist Lynne Blundell on an article in The Fifth Estate entitled People power and the rise of social sustainability.

The question is a valid one. The ongoing shift to environmental sustainability in our society has inevitably been accompanied by corporate greenwash in some sectors.  Most of us have seen a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report or a glossy advertisement that offers little more than rhetoric.  But as society’s awareness of the true meaning of sustainability and the imperatives for changing our behaviour grows, greenwash has become increasingly transparent.

Organisations in the corporate, government and non-government sectors are ever less able to rely on greenwash.  Successful organisations are increasingly recognised as those that treat sustainability as an integral aspect of their future planning. In the corporate sector particularly, businesses’ financial sustainability is increasingly dependent on demonstrating genuine CSR.

None of which is breaking news. But as Blundell rightly points out, the next wave upon us is the growing recognition of social sustainability – what it means and how we can seek to achieve it.

The Green Building Council of Australia‘s (GBCA) development of Green Star rating tools for new communities is a case in point.  The GBCA has now defined the five core principles for sustainable communities – liveability, economic prosperity, environmental responsibility, design excellence and governance.

As I member of the Liveability technical committee, which is charged with developing rating tools for liveable communities, the challenges of this shift are evident. How does one accurately define and measure aspects of our communities such as ‘liveability’ ‘social capital’ ‘affordability’?  At what stage of the development process should a community be rated?

The development of these tools are just one indicator of the changes afoot in the development industry. There is no doubt that social sustainability is a concept that all developers will very soon have to understand and apply. Exciting times lie ahead.