Scenes from a city picked clean by investors

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An alarm clock sounds in a small apartment. Cars choke and crawl their way across the bridge to towering offices. The sun glistens on the water as the ferry full of chattering passengers chugs it way across the harbour.

Sirius buildingA man waits impatiently for his skim latte, tapping his leather boot on the tiles of Martin Place. The sound of a violin bellows off the walls of Central Station. Coins clatter into the buskers' waiting hat.

The ecosystem of the city — as busy and as complex as ever. It's also an ecosystem under threat from investment predators. As more swarm into the space of the city the other people in the system are faced with two options for financial survival — move out or move far away.

This is exactly the choice that has been given to the residents of the Sirius building at The Rocks in Sydney. Its modular grey blocks, a common feature of brutalist architecture, rise high into the skyline.

The building was erected in 1979 as a solution for public housing tenants who were being displaced when the area was redeveloped. Now it is under threat as the New South Wales government plans to sell off the block along with a handful of other heritage-listed terraces in Millers Point. Most of the residents were moved out of the building in 2015 despite their protests.

Myra Demetriou is one of the last residents still in the Sirius building. It's been 60 years since Myra moved into the Millers Point area. Her hair is now greyish white and she spends a lot of her time talking to journalists and sharing her story. Now 90, she'll be painted by amateur artists when the building in open to the public for Art Month during March.

When interviewed by the ABC she said she hopes people coming along for Art Month will take time to ask her about why she wants to stay in her apartment. 'People from all walks of life should be able to live in the city. It shouldn't be an environment of investors and the wealthy because then you start causing divisions, which is dangerous.'

This danger is one of deep divide, which will eliminate entire groups of people from the city ecosystem and create a classist town.

 

"If the city is no longer created by everybody, then it's hard to imagine it would be sympathetic to the variety of people it could encounter in its system."

 

The building's architect Tao Gofers has also been outspoken about the importance of inclusiveness in city housing. He hopes opening the building up to the public will educate people about the need for not just social housing, but homes for people from all types of work. This includes the firemen, teachers and nurses who are essential to the running of the city. Gofers believes people who are important to the city environment shouldn't have to spend hours coming into work every day. The city being out of reach for about 90 per cent of the Australians who make up the functioning of it is, he says, a great injustice.

In July 2016, the government decided against heritage listing the site despite its unanimous recommendation by the Heritage Council. This will be challenged in April at the NSW Land and Environment Court. In the meantime, the building has become a symbol of the Australian housing crisis, where only the rich and investors can exist in the urban hearts of the states. Everyone else is pumped out through less valued veins, expected to find their own way back to the centre to replenish and continue surviving.

Australia isn't the first place where urban planning has infiltrated social structures in society. The 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs explores how the decline of city neighbourhoods in the US can be blamed on a similar type of housing segregation. She writes: 'Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.' If the city is no longer created by everybody, then it's hard to imagine it would be sympathetic to the variety of people it could encounter in its system.

An unread newspaper tumbles and breaks apart in the wind. A man sits alone on a park bench wondering what it would be like to hear the playful screech of children riding bicycles through the park. As darkness settles over the skyscrapers the city's workers are commencing their long journeys home.

A young woman walks down her hallway towards her kitchen, an entire building of young professionals and yet not a single friend to be had. Not even the music of the street performers is heard anymore. They were all relocated. They didn't fit into the 'future city' plan. Car engines hum and airplanes roar overhead. Somehow the city ecosystem continues despite the investment predators having eaten up all other types of life.

 


Francine CrimminsFrancine Crimmins is studying a double degree of Journalism and Creative Intelligence & Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney. She is on twitter as @frankiecrimmins. Francine is the recipient of Eureka Street's Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Young Writers.

Topic tags: Francine Crimmins, housing, Sydney, Sirius building


 

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Existing comments

Graphically written!. The increasing cost of residential & commercial R/E is sending company HO's to the burbs. New city centres are emerging. Let the investors and YUPI's have it!. A city without inclusivity, is not worth living in.
Cam Bear | 04 March 2017


Millers point social housing was born in the time of the federation of this country at the turn of the last century at that time the government recognised and accepted the need for affordable housing for workers of this countryIt became part of the aspiration and ideals of Australia constitution for an egalitarian Australian society that ideal was reaffirmed with the building of the Sirius building in 1979 . Its a real shame for future generations that this Lib government does not understand the real value and needs of workers for decent affordable housing as our founding fathers did at federation of this country
peter muller | 05 March 2017


the greed of this greedy Lib government is killing the soul of this city they seem to forget the egalitarian society they inherited from past struggles for social justice the Sirius building represents the very best of Australia's society they have no right to sell it off to developers /property speculators because of what it represented to Australian society ideals
peter muller | 06 March 2017


Great article. Although I live in Manly with the Sydney "dream" of a view of the harbour I am a big defender of public housing. Everyone has a right to share this city and add to its wonderful mix of people, nationalities and ages. Most of the people who have been evicted from Sirius and Millers Point are the very people who built Sydney. Nothing will be worse than living in a sterile playground of pretend working class terraces containing multimillionaires and casino owners. It is that same bland uniformity which bleeds the character out of a city and leads to an unreal, boring, Disneyland existence.
Jenny Forster | 03 April 2017


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