Aboriginal IssuesCommunity GroupsHousingNews

Community formulates ‘alternative’ masterplan

WATERLOO: In the early stages of formulating a community response to the master planning process undertaken by the NSW government and City of Sydney, community groups are at the centre of discussions over what can be done to include a vigorous local voice in the traditionally top-down planning process of urban renewal.

The Waterloo Public Housing Action Group (WPHAG) is determined to see the Waterloo Estate remain in public hands. At a REDWatch meeting on February 2, Richard Weeks of WPHAG reaffirmed this prerogative and the desire for rental “controls” – specifically rent caps – to not be devolved to community housing providers.

The REDWatch meeting included a broad spectrum of Waterloo tenants and residents from the Redfern-Waterloo area. The renewal project continues to attract the interest of the non-tenant community, with local academics, researchers, architects, artists and activists lending their ears and ideas to the community.

The broad interest in the community response was confirmed February 28 at a packed-out meeting in the Waterloo Estate’s Solander building, facilitated by Genevieve Murray, whose team is heading up an “alternative” masterplan. Much interest is directed towards this proposal, which will be carried out alongside and, to some degree, in coordination with the “official” masterplan process headed up by Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC).

Cautious optimism could be sensed in the Solander room as the process was outlined. The alternative masterplan will include a dedicated space in the area where discussions, learning and planning will take place. The project’s conceivers have sketched out a methodology and some “first principles” for their approach to the participatory planning process.

One of the objectives is to pursue an “Indigenous resurgence” in the local area, which has seen the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reduced to around 2 per cent of the total local population. Jenny Munro, Wiradjuri elder and activist, reminded the group that Redfern was the “birthplace of self-determination”. She views the urban renewal scheme as another iteration of the history of dispossession of First Peoples.

How closely the alternative masterplan will integrate with actions taken by LAHC is yet to be determined. Some at the meeting with experience dealing with community consultation efforts by the NSW government warned those gathered of being unrealistic about what can be achieved. Others noted the groundswell of interest in the Waterloo redevelopment and pointed to the “iconic” status of the Waterloo Estate as reasons why the community-led masterplan process could lead to real outcomes for tenants.

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