Performing housing affordability: the case of Sydney's green bans



Publication Details

Cook, N. (2016). Performing housing affordability: the case of Sydney's green bans. In N. Cook, A. Davison & L. Crabtree (Eds.), Housing and Home Unbound: Intersections in economics, environment and politics in Australia (pp. 190-203). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.


This chapter explores the relationship between urban social movements, civic action and housing policy, taking Sydney's green bans from 1971 to 1974 as a case study. This period of urban activism saw the interruption of urban development plans by the New South Wales Builders Laborers Federation (NSWBLF), the union representing builders and labourers in the State of New South Wales (NSW) who, in support of resident activists, refused to work on building sites that involved the demolition of public housing, heritage buildings or the denuding of green spaces in diverse neighbourhoods (Mundey 1981). With green bans placed on over 40 sites, the union's refusal saw delays in urban development on many high-profile projects, including in Sydney, the redevelopment of The Rocks, the Theatre Royal and Centennial Park (Burgmann and Burgmann 1998). Affordable housing and heritage buildings in inner-city precincts including Woolloomooloo and Glebe were also protected. Comprising a cross-class coalition of workers, residents and professionals that sought to put 'people before profits', the green bans epitomised grass-roots urban activism during a period of inner urban restructuring (Hardman and Manning 1975). This action also had lasting influence on urban renewal processes through emphasis on affordable housing, green space and heritage conservation, long before such values were articulated in formal planning legislation and urban policy.

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