316 King Street, 1977-1980. Image from ArchivePix
As Bridge and Dowling (2001) note, although gentrification has for some time been argued as a process of consumption as well as production, little analysis has been done on the commercial precincts of areas undergoing gentrification. In their study of businesses in Newtown, Glebe, Balmain and Rozelle, all suburbs experiencing gentrification, Bridge and Dowling note how these spaces reflect and reinforce the lifestyle of the new middle class, especially their interest in exotic/ gourmet foods, independent labels, and their health and wellbeing.
The gentrification of the suburb is partly shown through the pubs of Newtown. Interviewee Gerard, noted a wave of renovation that went through the Newtown pubs, replacing the shabby interiors, central bar and pokies with lush beer gardens, multi-level bars and bistros.
Bloodwood, Newtown. Image via Australian Design Review
The emphasis on authentic ‘exotic’ foods in Newtown described by Bridge and Dowling (2001) is perhaps slightly lessening, with a number of new establishments with gourmet, modern Australian and degustation menus. These establishments are significant in that they represent a higher price bracket and a focus on a kind of branded Dining Experience rather than simply the food itself.
An analysis conducted of a small portion of northern King Street confirmed whilst many of Newtown’s restaurants and cafes are independent, their clothing and goods stores are increasingly part of Sydney wide or Australia wide companies, linking them with other gentrifying or ‘trendy’ suburbs such as Balmain, Bondi and Paddington. Thus whilst the emphasis is still on independent retailing, Newtown is now connected to a more branded network of businesses.
Many saw the arrival of Aesop in Newtown as a significant (if not pleasant) marker of gentrification. An Australian company selling skin care products, they appeal to the new middle class’ interest in the body and health through evoking a nostalgic combination of the scientific, botanical and environmental in their carefully designed packaging and stores. They are located around the world, connecting Newtown to exclusive places such as Mayfair, London and the exclusive lifestyle store Merci in Paris.
Media and marketing also play a role in the gentrification of a suburb. Realtors and developers highlight existing lifestyle factors of a suburb and encourage similar developments to occur, whilst local media outlets publish articles on the dining and entertainment ‘attractions’, so attracting local visitors and new residents alike who identify with the lifestyle. The Newtown Urban Walkabout guide emphasises a bohemian Newtown, full of design and artisan goods, gourmet bakeries, coffee, restaurants and live music, thus appealing to the lifestyle values of the new middle class.
Bridge, G. & Dowling, R. 2001, Microgeographies of retailing and gentrification, Australian Geographer, vol. 32, no.1, pp. 93-107.