'A Village in the Middle of a City': Neighbouring and social ties in a public housing community in inner Sydney, Australia

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Neighbours around the World: An International Look at the People Next Door, 2022, pp. 189-206
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In March 2014, the minister responsible for public housing in the state of New South Wales in Australia announced that all 600 public housing tenants living in the historic heritage-listed adjacent inner-city neighbourhoods of Millers Point and The Rocks in Sydney were to be moved and the homes sold to the highest bidder on the open market. There were to be no exceptions, and the last public housing resident was moved from the area in July 2018. A common view is that public housing areas in countries with a residualised welfare system are characterised by attenuated social ties, anomie and bleakness. This chapter examines neighbouring, social ties, mutual assistance and sense of community among public housing tenants in Millers Point and demonstrates that this is not always the case. Drawing on 48 in-depth interviews with residents, plus observation, I show that the social connections among public housing tenants in the area were unusually strong and enduring. I argue that in order to understand why this was so, we need to look at the physical and social features of the area. Following on from the seminal work of Jane Jacobs, the New Urbanism movement argues that compactness, mixed land use and walkability are crucial enablers of social interaction and neighbourliness. These physical features were present in Millers Point. There is now a recognition by New Urbanism scholars that physical elements in themselves rarely create community and that the social features of neighbourhoods also have to be taken into account. In the case of the public housing tenants in inner Sydney, the key social features were longevity of residence and homogeneity. Another crucial aspect was a strong sense of social obligation. This was partially due to the presence of strong trade unionism in the area historically and the intermittent nature of employment at certain periods, which ensured neighbours rallied round to help those who were less fortunate.
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