Gentrification at the shops…

 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. 

(click for full size)

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.

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Historical Newtown – Maps

Map of the Boroughs of Glebe, Camperdown, Newtown, Macdonald Town and Darlington. Circa 1890.

Map of the Borough of Newtown circa 1885

Map source: Newtown Project, viewed 13 June 2011, <;

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Gentrification begins at home…

      Terrace on Queen Street: “An artistic and funky take on the classic terrace…redesigned to reflect the                                           vibrancy of its cosmopolitan surrounds”. Sold in 2011 for $745, 000

The renovation of historical housing stock by first wave gentrifiers of inner city suburbs is so ubiquitous that it has become entrenched in the definition of the word ‘gentrification’ itself (Smith and Williams 1986). In Australian cities this typically took the form of the Victorian terrace, with inner city areas containing plentiful supply of these workers cottages in good condition (ie with original features intact), being among the first to experience gentrification eg Paddington and Glebe in Sydney. Whilst this process of manual restoration by the home owner/s began in Paddington in the 1970s and spread to the inner west in the 1980s, it only really became evident in Newtown throughout the mid 1990s. (Why this is so is an interesting question. The fact that neighbouring Erskineville was undergoing gentrification before Newtown suggests that it could have something to do with the dominance of King Street and its traffic congestion, still used at that stage by heavy vehicles as a southern entry/ exit point to the city.)

By the late 1990s however, Sydney’s inner suburbs were also experiencing second-wave gentrification, which typically involves larger scale apartment developments and industrial conversions (generally associated with developers and/or government) (Bounds and Morris 2006).  Rofe (2003) elaborates on the different type of gentrifier this attracts. The ‘consumption gentrifiers’, typically in the first wave of gentrification, are those that deliberately purchase and renovate their home as an expression of “actively constructing their own place-based identity” (Rofe 2003, p. 2522) ‘Production gentrifiers’ on the other hand are those that purchase already renovated homes or new apartments and are seen to be investing in a pre-fabricated identity. These two categories, whilst generalising, suggest different attitudes to property, community and length of residency within the community.

    As advertised: ‘this warehouse provides a blank canvas for development or to create your own luxurious custom designed dream                                                                     home’. It sold December 2010 for $1, 270, 000.

Thus Newtown’s experience of the gentrification process has been fairly unusual, with the actors and processes of both ‘first wave’ and ‘second wave’ gentrification present more or less concurrently and significantly impacting the community of Newtown. Opposition to the direct and indirect displacement experienced has been expressed in the local press and through graffiti and posters located around the suburb. Residents particularly note the disappearance of the elderly, who can no longer afford the rent, and members of the Greek-Cypriot community who have historically played an important role in shaping Newtown.

Article: Locals lament suburb that once was, by Amy Neilage

Article: Grunge gives way to gentrification in streets of Newtown, by Adele Horin

Bounds, M. & Morris, R. 2006, ‘Second wave gentrification in inner-city Sydney’, Cities, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 99-108.

Rofe, M. 2003, ‘I want to be global: theorising the gentrifying class as an emergent elite global community’, Urban Studies, vol. 40, no. 12, pp. 2511-2526.

Smith, N. & Williams, P. 1986, ‘Alternatives to Orthodoxy: Invitation to a Debate’, in L. Lees, T. Slater & E. Wyly (eds), The Gentrification Reader, Routledge, Oxon, pp. 9-10.

Interview conducted with Newtown/ Enmore residents Gerard and Sarah, April 2011.

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Historical Newtown -The Hub

The Hub was originally the Edward J. Hippodrome until it was taken over by Harry Clay in 1910 and turned into a theatre known as Clay’s Bridge Theatre. In 1939 it was given an Art Deco renovation.

During the 1970’s The Hub was used to screen pornographic films and also staged live sex shows until its closure in the early 1990’s. The Hub has since remained vacant and today remains as a local landmark.

The following DA was submitted for the development of retail and office spaces, in 2008, and subsequently rejected.



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Historical Newtown – ‘I Have a Dream’ Mural

The ‘I have a Dream’ mural was painted over two nights in August 1991,  by artist Andrew Aiken.  The mural was un commissioned although soon after it was painted the local council removed the shrubbery covering the original bottom half of the painting.

The original mural was then altered by the addition of the aboriginal flag and the removal of the surrounding garden. What was once considered a ‘peace park’ remains a vacant space.

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Historical Newtown – Roads, Vehicles and Pedestrians

Newtown Bridge, the junction of Enmore rd and King st, a space once shared by trams and pedestrians. Between 1892 and 1922 railways, tramways, motorcars and buses, horse drawn vehicles and bicycles were all common methods of transportation around Newtown.

The pedestrian once shared the road with trams and other vehicles and was not confined to the footpaths as they are today. King street and Enmore rd today are greatly dominated by cars not leaving much space for people to pause and socialise.

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Historical Newtown – Camperdown Cemetery

Camperdown Cemetery was founded in 1848 and by the 1940’s covered the area now known as Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. The original cemetery, as seen in the photographs below was bounded by Australia st, Lennox st, Church st and Federation rd covering an area of 13 acres.


As a result of a murder in the overgrown Cemetery in 1946, the local council took action in 1948 to condense the original cemetery to 4 acres, by relocating the gravestones, to the area surrounded by sandstone walls that still stands today.

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