#WeLiveHere2017 aims to turn inanimate buildings into metaphorical sentient structures, with 'mood lights' expressing the feelings of Matavai and Turanga Tower residents about their neighbourhood's redevelopment. Image: Nic Walker courtesy of #WeLiveHere2017, Author provided
We Live Here: how do residents feel about public housing redevelopment?
06 Sep 2017
Residents of two high-rise public housing blocks are being given 'mood lights' to express how they feel based on their experience of the process of redeveloping their neighbourhood
Documentary filmmakers and urban scholars are working alongside residents as they attempt to engage with media reporting and urban planning of the redevelopment.
One project, #WeLiveHere2017, is part-urban performance and part-documentary. Up to 500 residents in two public housing towers are each being given a coloured “mood light” to install in their window. Residents can change the colour of their light to express how they feel about the changes in their neighbourhood, including their possible relocation.
The project is a response to public tenants often having little choice or say in the key debates and decisions about their changing neighbourhoods and homes.
What is the main purpose of housing?
The Waterloo site includes about 18 hectares of government-owned land containing low-, medium- and high-rise public housing. According to Planning NSW, the redevelopment will increase “housing and jobs”.
This debate has a long history. In 1872, Frederick Engels concluded that “the so-called housing shortage, which plays such a great role in the press” was the result of industrialising European cities not providing worker housing.
Engels understood that residential housing is political, and that if market societies fail to provide workers with enough adequate housing, the housing problem will continue ad infinitum.
Solutions depend on the questions we ask
Finding effective solutions depends on asking the right housing questions. The public debate is replete with evidenced-based housing data about the wrong, or possibly non-housing, questions.
Housing supply and dwelling completions data answer popular housing questions, but often presuppose a particular private housing type. Housing market analyses focus on economic exchange rather than questions of residential use.
Arguably, the key housing question is this: should we continue with policy that encourages housing to be treated as a safety deposit box for growing capital, or should housing be revalued for its habitational uses, such as housing for the poor, workers and the elderly in our cities?
Asking about these uses of homes reminds us that people actually live in houses, and that people need housing to live in if they are to work in our cities.
Urban economies only function when a cross-section of society lives in the city to provide a diverse labour force. In other words, it’s about housing and jobs.
Policy that treats houses as abstract market commodities has effectively devalued the tacit knowledge that is gained from how different people inhabit their housing and city.
This evidence base limits residents’ capacity to create alternative narratives about their homes and neighbourhoods, because these rely on different types of data and evidence.
The media regularly create stories about public housing estates as sites of dysfunction, disorder and crime. These stories draw on the government’s evidence base, which is produced to support its redevelopment agendas.
Because they are deemed to be the problem, residents of public housing neighbourhoods find it hard to engage in the political processes and debates that set out the so-called “housing problems” in our cities.
The human dimensions of the housing crisis
The #WeLiveHere2017 project is a response to the devaluing of the locally situated knowledge of residents. It attempts to capture their concerns about their changing neighbourhoods and homes.
The project turns an inanimate building into a metaphorical sentient structure. Through the mood lights, it is expressing the habitational experiences and anxieties of the residents.
Dallas Rogers has received funding from The Henry Halloran Trust, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), Urban Growth, the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, the University of Sydney and Western Sydney University.
Alistair Sisson receives funding from an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
Jenna Condie receives funding from City of Parramatta Council and Western Sydney University.
Laura Wynne receives funding from an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship, and from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI).
Pratichi Chatterjee receives funding from the Australian Government's Endeavour Scholarship and Fellowship Awards.
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