Future Planning Centre a space for discussion
A fresh coat of ocean-green paint is newly dried on the walls of the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group’s Future Planning Centre in their sizable quarters at 95 Wellington Street, opposite IGA.
Tenants, local professionals and many more interested parties joined state parliamentarians Jenny Leong and David Graham, City of Sydney councillor Linda Scott and Lord Mayor Clover Moore to celebrate this significant milestone for the community.
On Saturday June 24, the centre opened the doors to WPHAG’s new base of operations, a place fit for purpose as an “independent, inclusive and democratic space for discussion, debate and action”.
As residents enter the first round of community engagement for the Waterloo master plan in the form of “visioning” workshops, a different kind of approach to planning was on display at the centre’s open day.
A physical model of Waterloo dominates the space, which within hours of operating, was covered in street names, small models of buildings and annotated with notes – some historical, others more curious. “GOOD OLD PUB, THE ABBOT’S” one read. “PIZZA SHOP”, another.
“I’ve learned a lot in the past five minutes,” says Eddie Ma of Sydney-based spatial design practice, Vigilanti. Ma is working with the WPHAG team to construct a 3D model of the estate to begin putting the future needs of the community into some perspective.
Looking down at the sprawling estate lands, Ma commends the built environment of the central tower blocks and the surrounding Waterloo Green, a significant part of Sydney’s geography and “almost the only precinct that’s purely social [in its design]”. Other parts of Waterloo, he says, suffer from poor provision of community space.
Such built environment issues are a central concern for tenants. “As long as it’s not a park bench,” jokes Solander resident, Olivia, 63. Her cynicism is commonplace, with the number of unknowns stacked so high. Until the announcement of the redevelopment in 2015, Waterloo was a place where many, like Olivia, expected to live out their days.
The deprivation of that sense of permanency is something WPHAG hopes to restore. “There’s no provision set up by the government to take the existing community, with all of its good, and cultivate it across that bridge into the new community. We’re going to show them how it’s done,” announced WPHAG chairperson Richard Weeks.
Securing the space for the Future Planning Centre will cement the community’s voice going forward. Greens MP and WPHAG supporter, Jenny Leong, told the crowd, “What we have today in this amazing little space is a physical world where we can actually build a stronger community. And I can’t believe they [Land and Housing Corporation] gave it to you.”
It’s an achievement that would have been unthinkable a year ago, when WPHAG members were encamped on the Waterloo Green soliciting signatures for their petition to Parliament.
The uniqueness of the new centre is its complete independence from government. As WPHAG member and tenant Ben Zavesa says, “What Richard has started is completely NGO”, referring to non-government organisations with funding arrangements in place through which full independence from government could be limited.
The Future Planning Centre is an entirely grassroots affair; a group of tenants, activists, architects, artists and other professionals who have set themselves the huge task of turning the redevelopment in the favour of the local community and the city more broadly.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore, after doing the official “lights-on”, was frank about the scale of the challenge ahead: “[It’s] going to be going for so long – a 15-20 year time frame – that’s why I think that it’s really important now to get the foundations in there in such a way that they can’t be mucked around by future governments.”
Those foundations are about more than just the needs of existing tenants but about a broader story of who the inner-city should serve. The Future Planning Centre announces itself as a place where such city-wide issues are part of the conversation.
In its first press release, WPHAG states: “The whole of Sydney understands the impacts of mass-redevelopment driven by the Globalised Real Estate Market … This is our backyard, this is our community and it is public land, we must all have a say.”
Watch this space.
Keep up with developments at the WPHAG’s Future Planning Centre’s Facebook page.