Dunbar Way Renewal Evaluation
In 2011, Pacific Link Housing negotiated a pioneering project with Housing NSW. Pacific Link undertook to renew the Dunbar Way estate in North Gosford in return for the management rights over all properties within Dunbar Way. This was anticipated to be a holistic approach to the improvement of asset management, community relations and the development of Pacific Link’s core business objectives. This approach to estate regeneration is representative of international best practice, with the success of CHP led renewal works well documented in the UK (National Housing Federation, 2008). In order to ensure that the DWRP achieved the anticipated social and economic benefits, Pacific Link Housing engaged the Western Sydney University to undertake an evaluation of the project. The evaluation was undertaken in line with a novel approach to evaluation that focuses upon resident’s experience of social housing neighbourhood, their attitudes toward the built environment and their aspirations for the estate.
This evaluation of the DWRP reflects the research methodology developed for the study of Social Housing Estate Renewal Projects (ERPs) by Gordon Bijen (2016). This method is interdisciplinary and brings the research participants’ experience to the fore. This is done to gain a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between stakeholders and their environment. This methodology is also resource efficient by ‘outsourcing’ much of the intensive research activity to participants. For this evaluation, three major avenues of inquiry were pursued.
Detailed review of existing research
This detailed literature review will locate, collate and condense existing academic and industry literature relating to public housing redevelopment into a short review for the report. The review will discuss the emerging body of research and policy discussion on the role of place management as an influential variable in social interactions (Bijen and Piracha, 2012). The literature review will serve to position the Dunbar Way Estate Regeneration Program among similar redevelopments within Australia and internationally. Various studies associate the built environment with both positive and negative social phenomena, such as social cohesion or crime rates. Vale (2002) states that much of the mainstream stigmatisation of public tenancy is consolidated by the design of public housing neighbourhoods. Despite this, policy makers often neglect to consider these associations. Whilst the theories of mixed tenure housing and neighbourhood effects have been vigorously debated, the meanings of place-making in the context of public housing renewal and the potential for these meanings to positively shape the trajectory of community development are under researched. At the confluence of these issues lies the question of how estate renewal can be undertaken in a manner that enhances, rather than undermines communities. Responsive redevelopment models could be demonstrated to have significant benefits for policymakers, social housing professionals and community members alike. This report will show that community development, economic revitalisation and positive social outcomes can be encouraged by supportive place-making.
Focussed semi-structured interviews formed the backbone of the project’s empirical investigation. Interviews were undertaken with all stakeholder groups: residents, housing practitioners, community leaders, and other informed observers. Resident interviewees were recruited via a targeted letter delivered to all dwellings within the case study site. Residents then self-recruited by contacting the researcher and organising an interview. Practitioner interviewees included local government planners, community workers, architects, developers and representatives from social housing providers. These participants were approached directly and in many cases were already known to the researcher.
All interviews were semi-structured, with common themes aimed at eliciting in-depth, considered responses. For each interview an ‘interview roadmap’ was prepared which reflected the research questions and ensured consistent coverage of themes and signposted key concepts to explore with participants. Participants were also asked a series of ‘ice breaker’ questions at the beginning of the interview. These were intended to set the direction of the interview and to introduce the participant to the research interest. Themes pursued in the interview included:
• Experiential descriptions of the quality of the neighbourhood before and after renewal. What gave these characteristics?
• What are the positive or negative impacts of estate renewal? Has there been a measurable impact upon resident satisfaction, resident attachment to place and neighbourhood amenity?
• Outsider/Non-resident perceptions of the estate. Particularly after works are completed. Is there measureable improvement?
There were some specific variations targeted at particular participants depending on their position or role within the ERP. This allowed the researcher to compare perspectives across the sample, while allowing individuals to create narrative in response to themes that particularly spoke to their experience or perspectives. Resident interviews included questions about their experiences of life within the neighbourhood and the activities they participated in, how they move through the neighbourhood and their destinations beyond, how decisions about the ERP were made and who participated in these decisions. Practitioner interviews had an extra focus on the broader policy goals and implications of ERPs.
As previously stated, the interviews were to provide the core dataset for the research, serving to give the researcher an in-depth, ‘existential insider’ (Relph, 1976) understanding of the phenomenology of urban change in ERPs. The qualitative data collected through the interviews was the primary data source relating to the theories of place as an experiential construction and as lived space. Interviews were also important in building understanding of the memories, imaginations, and cognitive images of place. Interviews would generally occur in the home of a participant, if a resident, or in the office of a practitioner. By suggesting to participants the home or office as a meeting place, it was hypothesised that participants would be surrounded by a repository of memories (Rogers, 2013; Jacobs, 2010; Trigg, 2012) that could be called upon to provide a highly vivid account of the experience of urban change. The choice of the meeting place was left open to the participant as a measure to put them at ease and increase the likelihood of the interview going ahead.
This aspect of the research is aligned with current trends in built environment. The photographic survey undertaken by the researcher provided a visual description of the study site and identified significant features within the built environment. It is envisioned that the photographic survey will serve to connect the data provided by the other elements within the methodological framework. Both the researcher and participants undertook an extensive photographic survey of the study site. Visual methods have much to offer this project. Images can at once convey meaning, emotion and discourse. Visual communication in place research can offer an avenue to bridge the gap between the ‘words and numbers’ of existing research and the ‘experience’ that this project is attempting to document.