Gentrification in Fitzroy

Fitzroy is the archetype of a post-industrial Australian suburb. As Manual Castells, the Economic Geographer Kevin O'Connor, and a plethora of other authors argue, post-industrialism is the underlying catalyst for the present globalisation process.[1]

Inner city Australian communities are experiencing rapid gentrification, closing factories, rising rents and property values, and the appropriation of the working class culture that originally defined the suburbs. This is forcing out many of the long-term residents in favour of an eclectic mix of wealth distribution, lifestyles, and cultures.

Many claim that Australia is now being defined less and less by our historically definitive rural regions (as well as the great material and social egalitarianism of our post-war middle suburbs) and increasingly (for better or worse) by the culture of our inner cities, the fringes of our cities, and our bay-side towns. [2]

These changes can in part be linked to some of the major structural changes that are understood as globalisation. For instance, Fitzroy is a suburb where the factories that used to make clothes and confectionary now house the apartments of the new middle classes.[3] This is part of a larger global trend in developed countries where the majority of the workforce has shifted from the manufacturing industries into the service industries.[4]

Fitzroy is a suburb that has cultivated a large and vibrant artist's community which has now been branded and appropriated as ‘lifestyle'. This is also part of a global trend where culture and meaning increasingly circulate through consumerism and the brands of large multi-nationals (or through the marketing tactics of local real estate agents).

Fitzroy is a suburb where ethnic diversity is both generally accepted and celebrated and for many new Australians it is their first encounter with an Australian community (although many new migrants are now moving away because of rent increases). This is also part of a global trend where the immense global economic inequalities between nations, partly because of globalisation, have placed enormous pressure on developed countries everywhere to welcome increasing amounts of migrants and refugees into their local communities.

[1] See Kevin O'Connor ( Australia's Changing Economic Geography: A Society Dividing, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002. also Naomi Klein, No Logo, Flamingo, London, 2000.

[2] The demographic realities of Australia that are in part lived within the inner cities of one of the West's most urbanised cultures are in stark contrast to our resilient popular national identities which circulates in our popular culture. These identities insist that we are a masculine, Anglo-Saxon, and laconic people who live an idealised and relaxed lifestyle in wide-open spaces. From much of Patrick White's writings, to Frederick McCubbin's paintings, to Banjo Patterson's poetry, to the movies that spectacularly broke into the US and European markets in the 1970s and 1980s, there is a resilient popular mythology of an Australia connected to the bush. The large broadcasters continue to promote this image partly because it seems, there is little economic incentive in moving beyond crocodiles in the bush. This suits dominant global views of us based on dated centre/periphery ideas of ‘civilisation'.

For a longer discussion of Australia's changing demographic see:Bernard Salt, The Big Shift, Hardie Grant Books, South Yarra, Victoria, 2001.

[3] For an interesting article on resistance to development in Fitzroy see: Royce Millar, "Fitzroy gets set for a new development battle", The Age, <> (Accessed 1 June 2002).

Also, I use the sociological term ‘new middle class' in the context of workers involved in the knowledge economy. As a class, they have typically rejected the materialism of the post-war middle suburbs in favour of low maintenance apartments and inner city lifestyle choices. For an in-depth definition and case studies from Canada see: David Ley, The New Middle Class and the Remaking of the Central City, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

[4] Castells Op.Cit. p236.


2 responses to “Gentrification in Fitzroy”

  1. genevieve Avatar

    Nice post, Craig – I will look for that Canadian reference, it sounds very interesting. My mother spent some time living on Gertrude Street when there were SP bookies working the laneway next to their pub – she remembers the scatter of tickets whenever a police alert went up.
    Also not quite sure if the number of migrants we have taken in after globalisation has actually increased. It could be that we took in more in the postwar wave, as well as the post-Vietnam war wave? not sure.

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