Opinion: South Sydney Can Pioneer 'Gentrification Not Blandification'


"South Sydney has the opportunity to be a pioneer in mixed industrial and residential use development"

By Liam Walsh

Gentrification, renewal, revitalisation, urban regeneration – whichever term is used, the ‘renewal’ of an area need not always be mixed use apartments and trendy coffee shops. Replacing older industrial areas solely with apartments, offices and coffee shops is more likely to “blandify” an area than “gentrify” it.

In South Sydney, along the corridor from Redfern to Botany Bay is one of the best surviving blends of urban and light industrial uses. Suburbs including Beaconsfield, Rosebery, Mascot and Alexandria maintain a strong economic base of employment activity which cohabitates with old and new residential housing.


Gentrification or Blandification in ZetlandThe industrial areas in this corridor are now long past their time as heavy manufacturing, but still play a major role in providing vital warehouse, showroom and creative spaces to inner city areas.

Recently, there has been significant media coverage about the ongoing gentrification of South Sydney and the ‘Caffeine Fuelled Revolution’ taking place. However ‘urban renewal’ and ‘regeneration’ is being used to cover the light industrial fabric of the area giving way to bland overdevelopment. The result of these redevelopments is an area which looks identical to any other redeveloped suburbs with high rise housing, little pedestrian activity, low levels of ground floor activation and underused parks.

The mix of industrial and older residential housing with light warehousing and showrooms is what has made South Sydney unique. It is one of Sydney’s last inner city industrial areas. Vacancy is low, demand is high yet it still comes under intense pressure for conversion to high rise residential which is creeping southwards. The risk is a reduction in the diversity of employment and loss of a diverse urban fabric which gives the area a distinct character.


Maintaining a diverse urban character

Industrial and residential uses have usually not been co-located as modern urban planning practice has dictated that the two uses be separated. However many inner city industrial areas generally accommodate warehousing, showrooms and artisanal manufacturing (roasting coffee or microbreweries) where cohabitation can mutually benefit both uses. These creative/industrial uses are documented in detail in the 2014 Jones Lang LaSalle Report The Rise of New Industrial in South Sydney.

This is not borne out of an unrealistic reality, but rather recent interest from developers to construct housing above new ground floor industrial spaces. They see the offering as a point of difference to the bland mix of towers with generic ground floor uses.

In Tokyo and Osaka, there are countless areas in which housing co-habitates with warehouses, showrooms and even small factories. It maintains a broad economic base beyond just supportive commercial and retail and allows competing land uses to operate. The same is occurring in New York City in the Special Tribeca Mixed Use District and in San Francisco in the Eastern Neighbourhoods.


Industrial and residential areas in inner-city Tokyo (Google 2017)The benefits of cohabitation could help maintain crucial industrial uses close to the CBD, Airport and Port Botany, allowing homes to be located near a diversity of jobs and not replacing them.

There will be many planning obstacles to overcome, but we should be dictating our planning legislation around good policy - this could be one.


Liam Walsh is part of RPS’ Sydney-based strategic property advisory team. He coordinates projects where a combination of urban planning and property market influences need consideration. Liam works primarily across residential, seniors living and retail markets, with significant involvement in land release.

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