Mixing it up at Ivanhoe Estate - for a more socially sustainable place

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This week saw the announcement of the successful tenderers for the Ivanhoe Estate, which will be developed into an integrated community of around 3000 homes including at least 950 social housing units and 128 affordable rental units over the next 10 to 12 years. That's great news in terms of increased social housing supply. But as a new mixed tenure community, what needs to happen to ensure its long term socially sustainability, and to create a place where neighbours of all backgrounds live together cohesively? Where networks, bridges and bonds can be formed between residents of different housing tenures to improve social and economic outcomes?

The renewal of Ivanhoe Estate presents an exciting opportunity to deliver a place that not only delivers increased social housing stock, but enables the creation and sharing of social capital for its residents. Social capital refers to our many social connections and the benefits and resources these bring to the wellbeing of individuals and communities. This means delivering a place where incidental connections between neighbours can occur; where there are places and programs for the connections between groups of people; where there is sharing of values and community/cultural life; and where all residents have an equal level of voice and influence in local decision making.

One way to achieve this in this type of social housing estate renewal, is through a well considered integrated mix of housing tenures - where social, affordable and private residents are not silo'd in different buildings in different parts of the site (see the highly successful UNO apartments model). Where people from different socio-economic backgrounds and housing tenures live together, providing opportunities for the creation of social capital and connections between different groups. A recent study from the University of Melbourne relating to the Carlton estate renewal model showed that while the intention was for a housing mix, at development stage, public and private dwellings were delivered in separate apartment blocks rather than integrated in the same buildings as originally planned. The study found that as a result neighbours from different social/economic groups rarely meet and life outcomes have not improved. Furthermore, Resilient Sydney's Preliminary Resilience Assessment of Greater Sydney shows that social cohesion is central to the creation of resilient places that are able to withstand a range of shocks and ongoing stresses.

Some other steps to creating a socially sustainable Ivanhoe Estate could include:

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  • Implementing a program of community building events and activities in the early stages of development, to build early and long lasting connections between different individuals and groups, and to enable a evaluation of resident outcomes.
  • Inclusion of communal and community spaces that are delivered in the early stages. Where tenants (of all tenures) can meet and plan for improved local (and residential building) outcomes, and where community gatherings and local events can be held. Where share sheds can be established and re-makerys created.
  • Ensuring access (both in terms of proximity and affordability) to public schools, not-for-profit managed childcare, libraries with smart technology and study spaces, free Wi-Fi in public spaces, and learning spaces, to improve school achievement, job prospects, and opportunities to transition to the private housing market.
  • Delivering neighbourhood parks and open spaces at the early stages - that can informally build connections between neighbours and improve health and wellbeing outcomes for all. That will give people living in small dwellings, or who are home during the day, spaces to live outside of their apartments. Where children and young people can play without their noise upsetting neighbours. Located and designed so that people with disability and older people can access them easily. Places that consider residents' safety and how conflicting uses can be managed.
  • Imagining streets as places for community life. That are activated during the day while people are working and studying, and at night for socialising. Streets that are cool with tree canopies encouraging walking during hot weather, that have public places for people to meet, sit and gather (for free), passive surveillance, and places for community building (gardens, parklets, street libraries).
  • Providing engagement opportunities for all residents to participate in defining the identity of the place, as somewhere they all feel they belong to and take pride in. Establishing mechanisms for tenants to have ongoing involvement in local decision making.

If the renewal of Ivanhoe Estate and future social housing estates is to be successful, and the Communities Plus goal "to deliver a better social housing experience, with more opportunities and incentives to avoid or move beyond social housing" is to be realised, then a true housing mix is required, to create a place that can build social capital, local networks, and social sustainability for all.