What makes a place?

It is just after 1:27pm on a Friday afternoon in Sydney. For a July afternoon it is rather warm because here I am wearing a tee. My jacket is tucked into my bag just in case the weather changes. I’ve got an hour and fifteen minutes to pass through five stores. It’s an ambitious target, but I am determined to get an hour or two of readings on Australian housing policy completed when I get home. In the worst-case scenario, this trip could take a tad longer than anticipated, however I can at least make sure by the time the sun sets I have managed to comb through my ever-growing list of unread emails. Either way, this Friday needs to be a productive day.

I make it to the edge of the first street curb just as the Green, you-are-safe-to-cross the street traffic light changes and ushers in the slow-down-and-stop red traffic bloke. I’m not particularly inclined to wait around as I am bent on making every minute count. So, I run across the street, and I’m thinking about running all the way to the next set of lights. It is possibly a good four hundred metres between the first and second sets of lights. I smirk as I proceed because I muse to myself that I’m in my own version of the amazing race. There are five stores I have to go to and I have one hour and fifteen minutes. My reward at the end will be time to hopefully dig into some readings.

I only manage to jog for a short distance. Admittedly I am a little out of shape, and I realise I’ve successfully worked up a sweat in what seems to be an embarrassingly short distance. I drop my walking pace a little and as I try to catch my breath, I become more aware of my surroundings. My eyes wander between the buildings and groups of people seated in outdoor café style enclosures. There is a disconnect and tension I am growing agitated by. Then, it hits me. In the five minutes I’ve been walking from the time I exited the mall, I have transitioned from high end, brand name, smashed avocado and toast type of businesses to a world of ‘how trustworthy are this store’s products?’ Not because the businesses are questionable in themselves but because of the surroundings…and some of the characters.

The general vibes in this section of the city are not too welcoming either. They don’t scream come spend your money here. Certainly, the atmosphere is quite contradictory to the atmosphere in the mall. This is nagging at me. As my eyes continue to wander, my attention is drawn to the pavement and walkways. These too are telling a disturbing tale. I cannot determine if the tale is one about underinvestment and neglect by the local council, or if the tale is one about a people without much care for themselves and their environment. Whatever the true tale, I’m somewhat displeased by what is on display and I am now wondering if it is the people, the people of the people or the environment.

Looking at my watch, I realise that nearly ten minutes have elapsed. I have now arrived at the first store. I’m aiming to spend less than five minutes here. I just need to locate what I need, exchange pleasantries with the shopkeeper and leave. As I am stepping out, my attention is drawn yet again to the people on the sidewalks. There are some whose faces are all too familiar. In the back of my mind I begin to wonder where I may have seen them, and it finally hits me. These people wear a face I have become more conscious of in the last two years. It is the face of struggle and disadvantage. That unmistakeable face I see regularly in Sydney’s CBD when I pass by the homeless. My heart sinks. There is a difference between this city’s faces and those I encounter in the CBD. These faces seem more burdened. I do not dwell too long on this line of thought because there is a lot to take in about the environment as I walk on.

I get to store number two and it seems I have exhausted close to twenty minutes of my allocated time. Thankfully I’ve arrived at a quiet period and I will be done in fifteen minutes. This part of the block does not seem to have changed much since my last trip to this end of the town. A couple of familiar stores are missing though. Replaced by refurbished establishments. Having completed errand number two I begin to walk back to the mall. Now, my attention is on the infrastructure projects happening a couple of blocks away. Skyscrapers are on the rise and a few buildings are getting uplifts to their facades.  It is all part of the grand vision to renew this city and grow it into a key commercial hub. I wonder whether the unwelcoming atmosphere outside the mall is in any way related to the changes happening in this town. The word I have been subconsciously searching for finally comes to the fore of my thoughts. GENTRIFICATION.

This city is becoming gentrified and the tension I’ve been uncomfortable with as I have been walking becomes clearer. It is this ever-growing divide between investment in people and investment in infrastructure. Not just that, but, the narrative around how economic uplift will solve numerous engagement and inclusion related challenges that continue to grow. There is a lot about this narrative that puts me on edge. My mind is churning now. The politics. The power. The persuasion. Corruption. My motherland. The people. My thoughts are interrupted by two things that happen simultaneously, a loud crash and the kind of whistling associated with cat calling.

I choose not to look in that direction. I have an idea of what just happened having taken note of certain characters and what they were doing. I choose to keep walking and I am now wondering what other people think of and see when they walk, that is if they ever venture beyond the malls. I make two mental notes. The first is about this blog post and the second is about a series of posts I will hopefully put together about the housing system and disadvantage. There is a lot I’m inspired to share about. Watch this space and if you would prefer to get automated notices of when something new is posted, you can subscribe to get new posts delivered to your inbox.

Until the next post, take it easy and look up a bit more. Take note of what you see and ask yourself two hopefully simple questions. What is going on here and are the accountable folks really delivering on what they should be for the benefit of the people – not the look of the place – but the people.




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