Where next Sydney freaks?

April 11, 2021 — September 11, 2023

This is a draft of a thing I am thinking about. Subject to revision, hatemail and criticism.

OK, denizens of Sydney’s inner west, where are we going next? I am a fan of living in a dynamic and exciting city where I have inspiration on tap, from freaks and nutters and people who were born somewhere else. A bit of diversity, a bit of spice, a chance to dress up and be weird.

Currently one sweet spot for dynamic, freaky urban life is Marrickville. If you have not lived here, … well there are lot of things to love about it. Historically it has had many fine features — parks, ethnically diverse population, a mix of income levels, industrial spaces, loose noise restrictions and many shared public infrastructure, suchas community centres, theatres etc. Notoriously many people come to Marrickville for the semi-legal underground. I know we all love the warehouse scene in Marrickville, I certainly do. I love that there are gigs here, and sneaky parties and markets and you can get 10 different types of Vietnamese cuisine and drop in to a Greek spit roast after spending the arvo in an artist-run space, then spew into the canal, or go to the Farmer’s Market. Or whatever floats your boat. But various signs lead me to believe that the writing is on the wall for free-spirited, financially-questionably, bon vivant and/or bohemian lifestyle choices in what is increasingly a mortgage farm.

UPDATE: Looks like I am moving to Melbourne. Currently barnraising a cooperative house, in the Ouroboros project.

1 Why this cannot last

My main beef is that I can’t imagine the next cohort of Inner West cohort will be able to keep generating all the weirdness that makes it worthwhile, because they are too busy working multiple jobs to pay the rent. The inner west is too expensive now, and only getting more so. The average age of the suburb is increasing. It is getting real hard to survive here if you are young, or an immigrant, or basically if you don’t have parent footing your bills.

This is a bit outdated now, but check out this 2016 land value map and watch the waves of property value increase crashing down upon little old Marrickville.

TBH the entire setting of NSW is not favourable. The laws in NSW are repressive, for example.

This place is on a trajectory towards expensive, old, homogenous and boring, and if we want to be where it is cheap, fresh, diverse, and interesting, we need to make plans now for where to be next. And this place needs us less and less. Our tour of duty as the vanguard of gentrification is drawing to a finish. I have given it a solid go, keeping this place interesting, and I have come to the conclusion that there are other places where that task will be less sisyphean.

It turns out I’m not the first person to think that. People are leaving Sydney. See Elyse Dwyer’s note on Sydney out-migration.

This is a classic voice or exit problem: When should we stay and fight, and when should we leave? I find myself often at odds about whether to stay in a group, and try to steer it, or start a different one. Geographical ones are no different.

When I talk about where to go next, aficionados of, say, Sydney’s hipster inner west usually look at me funny, like I want to move 90 minutes away to sleepy suburbia shadowless and amenity-less except for a monolithic megachurch. Well… There is nothing wrong with sleepy suburbia. And this place might soon be an amenity-less waste, without even a megachurch.

The divide is not so crisp and binary as all that in any case. There are places that are not hollowed-out mortgage farms, and not sleepy suburbia, and moreover, we could make more places like that.

This post is about how to find good places and, just maybe where to make new good places.

Figure 2: From Elyse Dwyer’s report on Sydney out-migration: People are leaving Sydney.
Figure 3: From Elyse Dwyer’s report on Sydney out-migration: people are leaving expensive places.

But here, let me sell you on the benefits of embarking upon such a project.

2 There are exciting, more interesting places in Sydney

There is heaps of interesting Sydney left to be in, if we aren’t too snobby to see it. There are lots of thriving and interesting and more chaotic places, places with street culture and fun stuff and I think we could really bring something to such places. If we are really fond of the bubble we live in, I reckon we should see if other people can also be persuaded that our bubble has merit, by seeing if they want to share it.

Turning that around: What could we offer to a place that we moved to? What is the kind of space where we could make it better by being there? What can we offer to make people want to have us there? I feel like there is an implicit suggestion here that moving somewhere where we could keep a vibrant diverse and welcoming space would be a real win. Because, no mistake, my proposal is about gentrifying somewhere. I think that is also unavoidable, practically. Land is a zero sum game, and we all have to live somewhere. I could make a case that I think I am good for wherever I move, but I am clearly not an objective judge of that, so I will not waste our time. But if we want to ameliorate the process that is driving us out of our homes we could think about how to foster a less bad version of it where we go next. Could we, though, we give something back in return? Apart from keeping the property values low by hosting loud parties, I mean. Can we productively invest in futures of openness and diversity rather than spending that diversity down? Maybe through more opportunities and cultural understanding?

3 There are cheaper places in Sydney

Oh, and yes there are many more places which are cheaper too. That is good not just for us, but for the life and vibrancy of the community, where not everyone needs to work 70 hour weeks to pay the rent, and someone has time to keep community pumping rather than pass out in front of Netflix at the end of a gruelling day. Maybe this idea doesn’t speak to you. For me, at least, it is important that my neighbours are not only accountants who went straight into their profession after school, who work 8am-7pm and who I only see when they are running a petition to shut down the local music venue so they can sleep longer, to work longer, to pay the bills in this expensive place. (I have nothing against accountants, or persons of narrow life experience, mind, I merely want more a greater diversity of backgrounds and experiences in my community than implied by that life trajectory.)

4 We have more power to set the rules if we move outside our bubble.

My other selling point of moving: The inner west is a safe political seat. You have zero political leverage living here, because the incumbent representatives have massive margins. If you leave this bubble you move to more marginal seats, where your vote is worth more, and where politicians need to listen to your community’s voice to win the votes they need to stay in power. Leaving the inner west: good for you, good for Australian political power.

5 Desiderata

Some things I am not into: Places without walkable streets, places with few amenities, places with no public transport etc. A lot of the places that are still nearly-affordable in Sydney fit that description. Moving somewhere that does not price out vibrancy in terms of rent is a start, but it is not sufficient to make an area fertile ground for interesting community.

6 Where next?

So: Where next? Canterbury? Ashfield? Hurstville? Lakemba? Bankstown? Lidcombe? Blacktown? Wollongong? 1

Your thoughts?

Figure 4

7 Postscript

What is a liveable place? Can someone repeat this Most Livable Cities Meta-Analysis for Australia?

And how to live there; that is a whole different kettle of fish.

Footnotes

  1. Or, bigger picture, we want to have a look at where climate change is going to be extra bad and move there? That might mean abandoning this city entirely and heading south. Melbourne, Tasmania… but that is a story for next decade. Probably.↩︎