The Guardian August 15, 2001


The gentrification of Adelaide

"In the coming year, take a closer look at the improving face and spirit 
of our city and judge for yourself. " This is an invitation from Adelaide 
City's Lord Mayor, Alfred Huang, appearing in a full-page advertisement in 
a recent issue of Adelaide's daily "Advertiser". The ad had appeared 
several times previously and is part of a marketing campaign costing city 
residents $230,000. The images chosen to exemplify the "new directions for 
our city" are of cranes towering over a construction site, well-heeled 
patrons at a sidewalk cafe, a model of a large scale building project and 
the obligatory skyline.

Absent from the page which carries a booster's slogan "Capacity, Vivacity, 
Audacity, Our City", is any reference to the needs of working people, let 
alone the city's marginalised population living in sub- standard 
accommodation or sleeping rough.

The most recent appearance of the advertisement was on the back page of a 
feature sponsored by the Australian Institute of Management.

The 12-page advertising feature contains nothing but the bosses' view of 
what progress, innovation and excellence might be. The positioning of the 
ad is no coincidence.

A number of recent developments within the city also demonstrate that the 
City of Adelaide is trying very hard to prove to the corporate sector and 
to wealthy prospective residents that it has a vision for the city that 
would appeal to them.

Priorities in the latest draft budget with outlays totalling $116 million 
are "projects" to the value of $44 million,  $6.5 million on an upgrade 
of North Terrace, $4 million for the Parklands, $2 million on Lake Torrens 
and $300,000 to be spent on the Rundle Mall shopping precinct,.and so on.

Among the "projects" will be the promised high speed, broadband cabling 
throughout the CBD to attract corporations into the area. No doubt this 
will cause much excitement the forthcoming 13th World Congress of IT 
(Information Technology) should Adelaide be chosen to host the gathering.

Way down the Council's list, dwarfed by other spending commitments, is an 
amount of $50,000 to be spent on Aboriginal cultural heritage programs and 
$35,000 for activities to take place in Victoria Square.

The Battle for Victoria Square

The two last mentioned items of expenditure have been described by some as 
a sop to the Aboriginal community.

Relations between Council and Aboriginal community have been strained for 
some time over the use of Victoria Square as a meeting place for the mostly 
homeless indigenous people.

Adelaide City Council provoked community outrage by approaching the State 
Government to declare a dry zone (no consumption of alcohol outdoors) 
across the city and North Adelaide.

Sensing that the media had set public opinion against those meeting in the 
square, the State Government weighed in and threatened that, if the City 
Council didn't declare an alcohol free zone, then it would!

In considering this issue, it has to be remembered that it is more than a 
question of demanding that people not drink in Victoria Square.

Over the years the spot has become a meeting place for Aboriginal people 
and many maintain that it is a traditional meeting place.

In any case, it is a focal point for networks within the indigenous 
community whose members have shouldered more than their fair share of the 
problems resulting from the social decay around them.

A rapid decline in the number of jobs, availability of accommodation, a 
lack of services including mental health services and increased costs of 
medication to patients have all taken their toll.

In June this year the advocacy group Shelter SA reported that 20,000 people 
in South Australia are without permanent housing. There are 28,400 
households on waiting lists for high priority housing for up 12 months. At 
the same time, there has been a decline of 11,200 houses from the public 
housing stock over the last decade. In the same ten-year period, rooming 
house beds have declined in number from 1,500 to just over 200. Also in 
June, an announcement was made that a new Commonwealth Law Courts building 
would be erected on Victoria Square. Projected cost  $76.6 million.

Adelaide's unemployment rate remains the highest among the mainland 
capitals. The "Advertiser" quoted Uni of SA Professor Dick Bandy on the 
persistence of the problem: "The most distressing part about the SA economy 
is that although unemployment has fallen, this is not because of a growth 
in jobs  we have 3,500 fewer people employed since May 2000".

The social problems are many. The point to consider in connection with the 
declaration of a "dry zone" is that Council would much rather that these 
people be warehoused in far flung northern or southern suburbs rather than 
deal with the underlying problems.

Residents of Adelaide City itself are aware of this situation. In two 
studies conducted on behalf of the Council by Hassell's and McGregor Tan 
Marketing, it was found that people living outside the City area (and most 
likely to have attitudes formed on the basis of media reports alone) 
supported a dry zone, while those actually living in the City opposed the 
move.

They realise that existing dry zones in the City remain the most dangerous 
places to visit.

Furthermore, Police statistics reveal that during a nine-month period last 
year, the number of reported offences in Victoria Square (68) was dwarfed 
by those for North Terrace (819) and North Adelaide (1428).

The conclusion that the measure is also racist is unavoidable.

Premier John Olsen has announced that a dry zone would be trialled 
throughout the City from the end of October. There has been a promise of 
funding to the tune of $500,000 for a "stabilisation" facility to be run by 
the Salvation Army in Whitmore Square to deal with the alcohol problems of 
those to be displaced.

This undertaking should be put in the category of "I'll believe it when I 
see it". Similar promises were made as far back as 1996.

More effects of the development steamroller

Recent developments have also put live music venues throughout the City 
under threat. According to John Lewis of the Hotels Association, over 
21,000 live music gigs take place in the City annually demonstrating mass 
community support for the entertainment facilities available in the CBD.

Changes in land use resulting from Council plans to attract an additional 
17,000 residents (with the ability to pay astronomical prices for their 
accommodation) are causing difficulties for the live music industry.

East End hotels like the Crown and Anchor, the Austral, and the Exeter as 
well as the General Havelock, Grace Emily and the Seven Stars are all the 
subject of complaints about noise from new inner urban residents.

In an attempt to protect the viability of one of the venues, the owner of 
the Austral, Gosia Schild, brought an action against the Adelaide City 
Council in the Supreme Court.

She was appealing against the approval of a 90-appartment development six 
metres from the Hotel. The Council listed the development as "category one" 
which means that other nearby property owners did not get any notification 
and could not lodge any protests against the proposal.

The favourable decision of the Supreme Court has given the Austral a 
reprieve but the war continues.

Over 5000 supporters of live music rallied on the steps of State Parliament 
last month and gave notice that the Council's heavy handedness and lack of 
consultation will be challenged.

Echoes of the Depression

During the 1930s many of the Depression's poorest victims slept rough on 
the banks of the Torrens River in dwellings made of scraps of corrugated 
iron, hessian and whatever else could be fashioned into a shelter.

Some of capitalism's present day victims still do. But the settlement most 
reminiscent of those photos from the thirties is located near the cemetery 
on West Terrace.

For over seven months around 30 homeless people have been sleeping in small 
tents, in vehicles or under the stars.

They are of all colours and genders, some have mental and other illnesses, 
others are destitute due crises such as marriage break-ups.

All the street people gathered here want and are trying to get appropriate 
accommodation and support.

Craig's problems are not uncommon among those living on West Terrace. He 
can't obtain rent assistance from Centrelink. His dealings with the 
authorities are endlessly complicated by not having a postal address.

He suffers with depression and a condition called Barrett's oesophagus. The 
price of the medication for the condition has recently skyrocketed.

He can get two cups of soup, some bread and a pie a day from nearby welfare 
agencies. He has shed 12 kilos since he became homeless.

Eugene and Ina are an Aboriginal couple who regularly pass some of their 
time at the camp. Their case is quite rare. They recently moved into a 
house as a result of strenuous efforts on their part and by others helping 
them.

They were without a house for over two years and had slept out on West 
Terrace for about seven months. They now come to the settlement to express 
their solidarity with the people there still requiring accommodation.

All those sleeping rough are under constant threat of eviction from the 
City Council.

They were given notice to vacate the area several months ago but Council 
extended the deadline to some indeterminate date in the future after 
representations from welfare organisations and reaction from the community 
generally.

However, there can be no doubting Council's determination to move these 
homeless people on. It is only a matter of time before they, too, are 
shunted elsewhere to enable the City to take on its new guise.

This will happen without solving these people's problems or addressing the 
root causes.

Frustration is growing among those working with these marginalised people. 
Joyce Vandersman of the Adelaide Day Centre for Homeless Persons told "The 
Guardian" "It makes you sick to the stomach just how inhuman some of the 
decisions have been."

Commenting on the deterioration in the situation, she said,"... the people 
in positions of power are not as open, they are not listening and sometimes 
have hidden agendas. They are overriding all access to democratic input.

"There just aren't enough people on the ground who are upset and speaking 
out and being a voice with Aboriginal, vulnerable and homeless people."

Readers in other cities might recognise patterns of change in Adelaide in 
their own hometown. In fact similar developments are taking place in 
virtually all capitalist societies as a small minority of people, the 
beneficiaries of economies like our own, try to create an oasis of peace 
and opulence in the midst of mounting social problems.

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