Newspapers often use an academic or commissioned report as the basis of an article. I often think “I wonder if that report is available?” but then forget to follow it up. However, today I’m making a mid-year resolution to do so more often – a resolution that will no doubt suffer the same fate as the rest of my resolutions.
Since the horrific Grenfell fire, I find myself looking at brightly-coloured high-rise towers differently. Here in Heidelberg, a gigantic glowing copper high-rise is materializing on top of one of the highest landmarks in Melbourne, while there are plans for a high-rise on stilts to front the entrance into Ivanhoe. These are for the private market. Meanwhile this morning, the Age published an article pertaining to the State Government’s plans to redevelop former public housing walk-ups with a mixture of public/private housing with higher density. According to the government, there will be no loss in the number of public housing units, and the public-housing residents will benefit from the influx of private buyers “to foster an integrated community”.
In the end, however, there’s no getting away from the fact that land for public housing is being turned over to developers for private profit. Several public housing estates are in very enviable positions, close to all facilities and public transport, and in the case of Williamstown and Fairfield, with desirable outlooks. Once it’s in private hands, there’s no getting it back.
A report by Abdullahi Jama and Kate Shaw cited here examines the Carlton redevelopment which is being lauded by the government as a good example of public/private redevelopment. Jama previously lived at the Carlton estate, while Kate Shaw is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow in Urban Geography and Planning at the University of Melbourne. They report that instead of a ‘salt-and-pepper’ distribution of public and private residents, the estate has separate public and private blocks, each with their own entrances, and few shared spaces. The locked courtyard garden is for the use of the private occupiers only, and there is no mingling in the two cafes in the estate. This wasn’t the stated outcome when the redevelopment was first announced but, arguing that after the GFC it would be impossible to sell the private units, the idea of a ‘social mix’ has been put onto the backburner. Meanwhile, private developers and owners have been able to grab prime real estate for themselves, without having to worry about ‘those’ people who are corralled in ‘their’ part of the estate.
Moreover, they question whether ‘social mix’ policies replace the social capital they displace.
A diversity of housing types must include diverse sources of funding, with a range of support programs. Involving future residents in design and ensuring they know what they’re moving into, and enabling people to organise their own housing, are far more effective ways of building social harmony than enforcing a rigid notion of mix.