Edwina Lloyd

Gentrification, the death of Sydney and the Parisian solution

Image: AAP

Edwina Lloyd reckons the rapid gentrification of inner Sydney means the loss of its je ne sais quoi, however, there may be a French solution…if only the State would say oui oui… 


Gentrification, rejuvenation, revitalisation, urban renewal.

Whatever you call it, it’s hard to ignore the profound changes taking place in inner-city Sydney neighbourhoods.

Balmain, for example, used to be a place where boys didn’t cry. Now Balmain boys drive BMWs, and the old Ship, Painters and Dockers Union Hall has become a fashionable “warehouse conversion”.

Gentrification by Decree

The latest Sydney suburb to face the onslaught of gentrification is Millers Point.

Unlike the process that has affected other parts of Sydney, however, the gentrification of Millers Point is not being driven by the inexorable hand of market forces, but by design.  It is gentrification by official decree.

The Baird Liberal Government has come to the conclusion that the historic working class neighborhoods of Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks would be much better if they didn’t contain any actual working class residents.

Around 300 public housing tenants are thus being shipped off to less fashionable parts of Greater Sydney and beyond.

The rationale is simple: we only have so much money that we’re willing to spend on social housing and we need to get the best bang for our buck, so that means concentrating social housing in areas where land is cheaper.

So as long as inner city real estate is in demand, public housing tenants will simply have to get used to being forcibly separated from their friends, neighbours and support networks.

To the Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton, the logic of this argument is apparently irrefutable.

What sort of city does Ms Upton want Sydney to become?  A gated community?  An extension of Vaucluse?

The Sydney I love is an eclectic, challenging, beautiful, intimate and crazy place.  Its beauty comes not only from the Harbour and the Opera House, but from the spectacular diversity of its people.

Gentrification, however, has no respect for diversity.  It judges people purely by their financial capacity to pay high rents or to buy expensive property.  Sanitised, segregated and polarised, a gentrified city loses its soul, and loses its social cohesion.

How Gentrification Works

Researchers have discovered that gentrification happens when a shabby, run-down, inner city working class area comes into contact with a coffee machine from a neighbouring suburb.*

The coffee machine lodges into the suburb’s spinal cord, and like a virus, the gentrification starts to spread – slowly, house by house, street by street.

The aroma of roasted coffee beans then starts to attract bargain hunting home renovators.

At first it’s a trickle, then suddenly an army of cashed up 30-somethings is swarming over the place like locusts, and the median house price increases exponentially.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good episode of Grand Designs as much as the next person.

I, too, dream of buying a small abandoned weatherboard church, adding a suspended mezzanine and turning it into a funky entertainer.

Basic physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  As home renovators colonise one innocent working class suburb after the next, the reaction lies in the displacement of families who can no longer afford to live in the suburb they have called home for generations.


The Parisian Solution

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Paris, for example, is fighting back against the forces of gentrification.  It is inoculating itself against homogeneity and protecting its precious social mix.

The Conseil de Paris (Council of Paris) has initiated a radical plan to buy properties in inner city areas to ensure they remain available for social housing.

(It’s worth noting that the Conseil de Paris operates under a rare hybrid model of government – it is effectively a city state, with the equivalent powers of both an Australian state government and a city council.)

Not only has money been set aside (some 850 million), but the Conseil De Paris has targeted around 8,000 apartments at 257 addresses as potential purchases.

The most controversial aspect of the plan is that Paris has given itself the power of first right of refusal over those properties should they become available for sale.

The apartments have to be sold at market price, but owners cannot sell to another purchaser if the Conseil de Paris chooses to exercise its option over the property.

This bold strategy will ensure that some subsidised social housing will remain in gentrified areas of Paris like Menilmontant, Montmartre and the Bastille.


Save Our Social Mix

Our political leaders in NSW should take note.  Paris understands that retaining a social mix in the inner city is a desirable thing.

Segregating people according to their socio-economic status not only destroys diversity, it undermines social cohesion.

The Baird Liberal Government, however, clearly doesn’t get it.  It wants to see social housing tenants moved out of the city and away from their much-vaunted and much-resented “harbour views”.

It wants to make sure the gentrified inner city becomes an exclusive enclave for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, Lord Mayor Clover Moore says the City of Sydney values diversity and social mix, but the Council needs to walk the walk – not just talk the talk.

The City of Sydney could, and should, purchase at least some of the Millers Point properties, or the Sirius building, so they can continue to be part of the city’s affordable housing assets.

The Paris model shows exactly what can be done when governments – be they regional or municipal – make social housing a priority.

All Gabrielle Upton and Clover Moore have to do is say oui oui.



*Not really, I’m making this bit up


Edwina Lloyd

Edwina Lloyd is a Sydney-based criminal defence lawyer and community activist. She is the NSW Labor Candidate for the seat of Sydney in the 2015 State Election, and tweets as @Urban_Eddie.

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  4. Sue said:

    Who wants public housing tenants next door to them. Sit and talk all day while other people go to work and you fear for your property. They have damaged the buildings in Millers Point they should all be evicted and not entitled to another home. Graffiti and banners no respect for taxpayer funded property.

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  6. Anonymous said:

    I am the mum of a family of five and I work very hard to provide for my family in Western Sydney. Why should the people on welfare get to live there with harbour views that they do not work to pay for. My opinion is beggars can’t be choosers and if that is where they want live then maybe they should go and get a job!!

  7. Fayroze said:

    Why do we have to import ideas from Paris this is just to create a sexy title for an article with little understanding of the role and tiers of government. The state government has an affordable housing policy that is avoided or rarely implemented and the role of local government isn’t to provide affordable housing that is the Department of Housing supposedly critically under funded selling off properties to pay for maintenance. At present there are a swathe of affordable housing groups that are left to battle it out with big developers. Political will is needed but it’s the last thing on politicians agenda not since the Whitlam Government was there a reaction forceful to stave off gentrification. Everyone else is too busy paying the rent or mortgage or hitting up the Westfield to fight for social class struggles. The questions of what makes a community needs to be addressed however this has been outsourced to chain stores and community space is found in the realms of big box shopping centres and sense of place has been handed over to our online persona. Community engagement and participation is watching online Australiana digital content. There are pockets of community in Sydney but greed runs this town particularly developer greed and it is endorsed and encouraged by all tiers of government. Good luck running for you seat Edwina.

  8. Joel Pringle said:

    I absolutely agree Edwina, the Liberals have taken the Labor plan and injected it with steroids. Shame!

    Although to argue that 16 properties on 99 year leases isn’t a sell-off is disingenuous. That’s 99 years that the property is no longer in use for public housing, and I understand the funds weren’t used to build more public housing as a replacement?

  9. Joel Pringle said:

    Are you referring to the 16 empty properties that were being sold off by the then Labor Government? I’m not sure why a local Council should be expected to patch up the budget of a Labor State Government?

  10. Chris Masters said:

    What Edwina Lloyd fails to mention is that after 16 years of her government Labor did not build any new social housing but sold of large chunks of it including selling many social housing in Millers point leaving a waiting list of 58000 families for the Baird government to deal with.

  11. Jo Holder said:

    In 2009 a forum at the Abraham Mott Hall in historic Millers Point called on City of Sydney to purchase the 16 empty properties then up for sale on a 99 year lease agreement with heritage obligations. The newly expanded (in 2003) and vastly wealthy council was always a
    perfect solution to the state’s ‘maintenance problem’ as inner-city
    public housing is often euphemistically described. Instead of negotiating, the council approved the sub-divisions on 12 January 2009 – under SEPP 10 – Change of Use from Boarding House to Single Dwelling. Residents were not notified of the sub-division and re-zoning. The recent SGS Report commissioned by Millers Point Tenants points out that with the sell-off CSC will fall below its affordable housing target in Sustainable Sydney 2030. It is time for Sydney City Council to negotiate seriously. It is not too late. Only CSC has the clout to negotiate with the NSW Government.

  12. Michael Mutiny said:

    Love this article Edwina and glad to see people like you getting stuck into it!! Didn’t know about you before this so thank you and love the Paris examples

  13. Edwina Lloyd said:

    Come on Joel, get serious. Labor leased a small number of vacant properties in Millers Point on long-term leases. Those properties have been restored by the lessees, but remain in public ownership. The Government is now selling off the entire community, including the Sirius Apartments which were purpose built for public housing. Labor’s position is clear – we will stop the Millers Point sell-off and allow the tenants to stay in their community.

  14. Joel Pringle said:

    I guess when NSW Labor started selling off Millers Point public housing properties they didn’t get it either. What flagrant hypocracy.

  15. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Great post Edwina

    Problem is, the state of NSW, regardless of elected government, has proven to be run, operated and owned by real estate developers and construction companies, that’s always been the way and is likley to continue. It goes back all the way to 1788.
    Young thirty something’s are only the end result, having watched too much reality TV, sponsored by which Bank? Yeah that’s right, the cool one man.

    Sorry for all the commas, the coffee made me do it.

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