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Monday 18 Oct 2010

Chip off the old Block?

Editorial by WAN Editorial
© Pimlottc 
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The Aboriginal Housing Company attempts to revitalise plummeting social conditions with regeneration of suburban area - The Block 

The Block is a sub-section of the Redfern suburb of Sydney, Australia. Famed for its widespread organised crime, hard drug abuse and violent clashes with the local police, The Block is soon to undergo a dramatic transformation following almost three decades of planning by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC).

Under the new title the Pemulwuy Project, the remaining 75 Aboriginal residents on The Block have now been served with eviction notices requesting they vacate their homes by 19th November so that work can begin on the AUS$60m urban regeneration scheme designed by local architects Cracknell and Lonergan. Existing tenants have been instructed to reapply for new housing in the area when the project is completed in 2013, however the CEO of AHC Mick Mundine told the Sydney Sunday Telegraph on 19th September: "It will be based on their tenant history: if they're known for selling drugs, they'll never be allowed back."

Mundine's comment here gives a small insight into the underlying issues faced by the AHC. This is no ordinary urban regeneration scheme, just as The Block is no ordinary suburban community. Supported by the Whitlam Government the AHC purchased The Block in 1973, but it swiftly fell into a state of disrepair. In 2004, a 17 year old Aboriginal boy, TJ Hickey, was killed after becoming impaled on a metal fence; the tragedy was followed by a highly publicised court battle in which the police were accused of having a hand in his death, however the coroner found the police ‘not guilty'.

The case had a lasting effect on the community, with Redfern shortly succumbing to race riots. In a comment on the Green Left website this past Saturday entitled ‘Whither the Redfern Block?' journalist Peter Robson states: "In the aftermath of Hickey's death, Aboriginal youth fought back against riot police sent to take control of The Block. The cop shop was attacked and parts of Redfern station were damaged." Referring to Mundine's comment to the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, Robson questions: "Is this really the best solution - a mass expulsion of everyone to weed out the drug dealers?"

It goes without saying that a major shift is needed bring law and order back to The Block; but the question remains, is it justifiable to tear down an entire community and replace it with a freshly manufactured one? Uprooting a population with severe social problems, mass alcohol and drug addictions and those involved with organised crime may cause additional issues of displacement and distress. These problems will not disappear with new walls and a fresh coat of paint, and denying them re-entry to their original suburban community may only disperse the issues further afield.  

This said, many elements of intelligent design have been proven to have a positive effect on the users of a newly constructed or modified facility. Clearly evident in medical and educational institutions, features such as natural light, high ceilings and green spaces have been proven to aid concentration, physical and mental stimulation and positive attitudes towards work and community involvement.

In the WAN AWARDS 2010 Urban Design jury meetings, elements that were regularly praised included the incorporation of sensitive social and economic issues with a sympathetic approach to local culture and holistic values. Whether the AHC and Cracknell and Lonergan have managed to include these factors in their designs will become apparent when the project completes in 2013. Until then, we wait with baited breath...

Sian Disson
News Editor

Key Facts

Status Ongoing
Value 43(m€)
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