Macquarie University
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Placekeeping as a counter-narrative to urban renewal: an exploration of everyday dwelling practices in the Waterloo Public Housing Estate

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posted on 2024-07-09, 06:01 authored by Nerida Carter

The residents of the Waterloo PH Estate in inner Sydney are on the receiving end of a broad sweeping neo-liberal policy reform of urban renewal by the New South Wales Government. The current site is almost entirely PH, but this will be reduced to 27% with over 60% sold as private housing involving the gentrification and the privatisation of public space. Urban renewal, for the Waterloo PH residents, has been experienced as a top-down approach. Yet the “bottom-up” or everyday dwelling practices of this community, conceptually understood in this thesis as placekeeping, are not clearly understood.

Placekeeping is a foundational concept in this thesis and is understood in the literature as a counter narrative to placemaking as it explains how urban environments are composed of contested narratives. Discourses of placemaking are unable to adequately capture these contested narratives as they fail to include the voices of the community. Thus, the everyday dwelling practices of the residents of the Waterloo PH precinct are selected as a case study to understand how place and a sense of belonging is created from the residents' perspective rather than from the perspective of planners and policy makers.

The current Waterloo urban renewal development is an example of the structural force of neo-liberalism, and this forms the contextual basis of this research. Henri Lefebvre’s theory of “right to the city”, in which community are central in the production of place, is the central lens through which this analysis of placekeeping as a "bottom-up" process is undertaken. Placekeeping helps us to understand what the limits to these rights for the Waterloo PH residents are.

The study follows a phenomenological and ethnographic methodological approach which entails qualitative methods of data collection. The conceptual frameworks of placekeeping and "right to the city" inform the methodological approach to the research. The voices of the community are made visible via in-depth interviews involving photo elicitation from ten residents of the Waterloo PH community as well as participant and non-participant observation. Through the documentation and analysis of the material aspects of culture and the lived experiences of the Waterloo PH residents, this project asks how these practices may contribute to a more positive, just and participatory experience of urban renewal by the Waterloo community.

The thesis finds that the residents of the Waterloo PH precinct engage in various everyday placekeeping activities which involve grass roots initiatives led by the residents themselves. These activities connect people, create meanings and generate resources such as providing food and making visible the diverse culture of the Waterloo community. Furthermore, residents' placekeeping activities remain largely unacknowledged by the City of Sydney Council and Housing New South Wales within the current urban renewal. Rather the residents of the Waterloo PH community have experienced paternalistic attitudes in which their placekeeping activities have at times been removed by these local governing authorities. Despite overt hostility some of the residents continue to engage in these everyday activities. This thesis therefore argues that the everyday practices of urban activism — conceptually understood as placekeeping — enable the residents of the Waterloo PH community to challenge the structural forces of neo-liberalism which exerts domination over public space.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction -- Chapter 2: Research design -- Chapter 3: Elements of the everyday dwelling practices of the Waterloo public housing residents as placekeeping -- Chapter 4: Meanings of everyday dwelling practices to Waterloo public housing residents -- Chapter 5: The repositioning of the Waterloo residents through everyday dwelling practices -- Chapter 6: Conclusion from findings -- References -- Appendices

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Master of Research

Department, Centre or School

Department of Sociology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Justine Lloyd


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103 pages

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