Something New in Waterloo

Catherine Stuart from Lee Road Consulting looks back at the ’innovations’ of the past and learns some positive lessons in the process.

The desire to demonstrate innovation is a constant theme in social housing. Underpinning this theme is a narrative that paints the past as a series of failed experiments just waiting to be swept away, while confirming that next innovation will be the important one that really makes a difference.

How often do we acknowledge those failed experiments of the past also start out life as innovations? How often do we look back in search of positive lessons rather than the list of ‘what not to dos’?

One opportunity to look back for positive lessons exists right now in Waterloo, an inner Sydney suburb south of Redfern, around four kilometres from the centre of Sydney. In December 2015, the NSW Government announced renewal of the Waterloo public housing estate, which comprises around 2,000 social housing households, in conjunction with the Central to Eveleigh Urban Transformation and Transport Program managed by Urban Growth NSW.

The redevelopment of the Waterloo estate will occur through Communities Plus, the large-scale, innovative Department of Family and Community Services program to build a mix of social, affordable and private housing on state housing authority owned land in partnership with the private sector and community housing providers.

This proposed redevelopment of the Waterloo estate is not the first large-scale attempt to reshape Waterloo. From the early 1960s, the Housing Commission of New South Wales (the Commission) became committed to a series of large-scale inner city ‘slum clearance’ projects with the explicit goal of creating more housing for lower income people, more open space and a better lifestyle close to the city.

Working from Surry Hills to Redfern to Waterloo, the Commission compulsorily acquired land, closed or redesigned roads, and replaced streets of terrace houses and factories with combinations of Brutalist high-density tower blocks and three-storey walk-ups. These were all intended to house working families at below market rents, as well as providing further highly subsidised housing for pensioners; in today’s terms, a mixture of affordable and social housing.

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