#WeLiveHere2017: Fighting for the Towers One Post at a Time
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#WeLiveHere2017: Fighting for the Towers One Post at a Time

Issues/Housing , Stories/29 , Issues/Cost of Living
Waterloo NSW 2017, Australia
16th Jun 2017
#WeLiveHere2017: Fighting for the Towers One Post at a Time
"The government needs to play a really strong role in making sure gentrification doesn't destroy neighbourhoods." Keegan interviews documentary photographer Tom Payne on his work for the #WeLiveHere2017 campaign, a social action project that celebrates Waterloo.

By now you may be aware of the impending destruction of Sydney’s Waterloo Towers and the displacement of the 5000 people who currently call these towers home.

The 70s era, Soviet brutalism styled towers were constructed as public housing commission appartments for the increasing number of Sydney-siders who had been pushed out of the housing market. Residents who have called the towers home for the past 40 years are now being forced out due to new housing developments in Waterloo.

One campaign, #WeLiveHere2017, has been documenting the lives of the diverse, disparate and soon to be displaced residents of the Waterloo Towers.

Image source: Tom Oliver Payne

Tom Oliver Payne is a former urban planner turned documentary photographer who has partnered with the #WeLiveHere2017 campaign. Mr Payne visits the towers and documents the lives of the people living in them, one by one, and posts their stories on Instagram.

One of the common themes he’s discovered whilst documenting the lives of those in the buildings is the continued stigma around social housing in Australia.

“People think the main tenants of social housing are druggos, junkies or people who don’t care about fitting in with Australia, but when you talk to people you realise there is a strong sense of community and rich diversity,” Mr Payne said. “The stigma around social housing is completely unworthy and unjustified.”

Image source: Tom Oliver Payne

So far Mr Payne has taken dozens of photographs for #WeLiveHere2017, documenting the lives of only a handful of the 5000 people who live in the towers. He says that the people he has met are more than a stereotype.

“Most people I’ve met are old, they might have mental health issues, they might have made some bad business decisions and gone broke,” he said.

“One guy was an antique dealer, a really well educated person who made some bad business decisions and even went under. He became depressed, suffered some really heavy mental health issues and ended up living in the towers.”

Image source: Tom Oliver Payne

Mr Payne lived in London for a number of years working as an urban planner, where he would sign off on development designs, some not too dissimilar to the one that will destroy the Waterloo Towers next year. He says after working on the #WeLiveHere2017 project he wouldn’t return to that kind of world.

“I was often on the other side of these projects, I would develop estates,” he said. “Because of what I’m doing now, I feel like I was the bad guy in some previous projects.”

“Getting a broader understanding of how these types of projects affect people on an individual level has given me more perspective.

“Being down in Waterloo and spending time with the locals has made me realise how much Sydney needs diversity. There are really interesting people who have different backgrounds. They’re the ones who help define a city, not the rich people who move into these developments.”

Image source: Tom Oliver Payne

Offering some insight, he said the affordable housing legislature in London is more considerate of local diversity and social housing. “In London in each new development you need a minimum of 20 percent of the dwelling used for affordable housing, where as in Australia we don’t have any affordable housing policy,” he said.

“In London you’ll have this peppering of richer and poorer community members throughout developments across the city, which breeds diversity and community.

“You have these inner-city suburbs, predominantly owned by rich white people, around the north and east of Sydney and then the poorer areas out west. This create divides in culture and income across a wider area.”

There is no word yet on where the residents of the Waterloo Towers will be forced to move, but historically speaking it is safe to assume they will be relocated to the neglected suburbs of western Sydney.

Image source: Tom Oliver Payne

The forced relocation of people living in areas like the Waterloo Towers is changing the dynamic of Sydney and pushing gentrification further across the inner west.

“Gentrification is very hard to control. There isn’t much you can do about it,” Mr Payne said. “The government needs to play a really strong role in making sure gentrification doesn’t destroy neighbourhoods.”

Being both a local Sydney-sider and Londoner, Mr Payne offered his opinion on the prospect of our city’s future as a diverse place. He was pessimistic, even going as far as to call Sydney “quite sterile.”

“As beautiful as Sydney is, it is quite sterile. We have great weather with some amazing beaches and there is a great standard of living, but it really doesn’t have the diversity of a city like London.

“It doesn’t have the housing tenure and affordability compared to London. Sydney, comparably, has a lot of monocultural neighbourhoods. It needs to stop being a tacky hub built for gamblers and fly-in-fly-out tourists. Sydney needs a change in direction.”

Image source: Tom Oliver Payne

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