Who deserves clean air? Sustainability and inequality by Lottie Clark

Barangaroo, a site with multiple histories, is now a focal point of gentrification, sustainability and inequality. The new development is armed by one of the most prominent contemporary drivers of globalisation – the international financial sector.

Dilapidation meets environmental gentrification. The Barangaroo foreshore development boasts itself as the first CBD precinct in Australia to be 'climate positive', and the first of it's size in the world. Metres away the Miller's Point community has been almost completely moved out as the land is increasingly valuable to investors. "The point is... Save Miller's Point" reads the sign

Behind the façade of economic growth, just metres away from the multinational corporate offices, there are uncomfortable changes that reflect the inequitable, and destructive side of globalisation. The foreshore development achieves many sustainable infrastructure goals while the contrasting inequality of the Miller’s Point community, and their displacement, is proof that current ‘urban sustainability’ projects are paradoxically guided by economic globalisation. The narrative surrounding the expulsion of housing tenants (often with intergenerational links to place) speaks in terms of renewal and profit; however essentially it is a question of who deserves to enjoy the harbour side amenities (Darcy & Rodgers, 2015 pp. 53-54); dole bludgers or financial technocrats powering the local (and global) economy.

A resident [pictured, right] has lived in the public housing residence in Miller's Point for over thirty years remain, most of their neighbours have been evicted in the past year. Many are elderly, meaning not only their homes are lost, but their connections to place, community, and history.

Inequality is no new theme for the site of Barangaroo, or any global city, however it is here that new forms of inequality come into existence (Sassen, 2000 p. 85). Processes of valorisation and de-valorisation are strongly present in Barangaroo. As a global city with an advanced economy, the “techne” finance work performed in the high-rises in Sydney, containing the likes of PwC or KPMG, is valorized, to a point where all other non-specialised or ‘expert’ service work is subordinate (Sassen, 2000 p. 82). The history of working class struggles experienced along ‘the Hungry Mile’ may be commemorated in historical appreciation, but it certainly cannot stay spatially intertwined with modern Barangaroo, which needs to accommodate for the hypermobility of the top globalised sectors (Sassen, 2000 p. 79-80).

The development includes the 'restoration' of native vegetation in the northern headland. Indigenous tours are run around the park, providing tourists with a peak into Aboriginal history and culture of the area. Aboriginal involvement in policy-making creates a consensual dynamic contributes to the depoliticisation of gentrification (Checker, 2011 p. 214). The park also contains multi-media art installations and a car park.

Indigenous participation in Barangaroo, ranging from the indigenous employment programs and the community consultation processes, recognises aboriginal history. Including a stakeholder group in the development process is inclusive but also a neutralisation tactic. Effectively, it removes any acute political conflicts, inhibiting any strong movements of resistance. In this sense, gentrification has significantly changed the local political playing field (Checker, 2011 pp. 221-225).

Left: Barangaroo was previously known as the ‘Hungry Mile’, suitably named relating to the experience of dockside workers during the depression who would queue hoping for a day’s work. Today it is the site of extreme wealth creation in the form of white collar professions. Right: Indigenous guide Tim stands with traditional hunting spear which inadvertently towers over the business precinct behind.

Barangaroo, as Saskia Sassen articulates in terms of economic globalization, has become neutral in terms of place and distance (Sassen, 2000 p. 79), and this means the other social narratives have become warped, if not silenced, in order to enable this.

References

Checker, M., 2011. Wiped out by the “greenwave”: Environmental gentrification and the paradoxical politics of urban sustainability. City & Society, 23(2), pp.210-229.

Darcy, M. & Rodgers, R., 2016. Place, political culture and post-Green Ban resistance: Public housing in Millers Point, Sydney. Cities: the International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning. 57. pp. 47-54.

Sassen, S., 2000. The global city: strategic site/new frontier. American Studies, 41(2/3), pp.79-95.

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