Of_Substance is the collaborative practise of Björn Rust and Nikhila Madabhushi founded on trust and respect.

Outcomes for Impact

Gentrification: Opportunity or Threat?

Understanding the socio-spatial needs of people in rapidly gentrifying Heidelberg West: An exploration of interrelationships between decolonial and participatory practises.

Category: Design / Research
Year: 2019
Collaborator/s: Himilo Community Connect, DHHS, Banyule Community Health, Islamic Council of Victoria and West Heidelberg Community Hub
Images: Of_Substance
Figure 1: Nikhila Madabhushi (Co-Founder) guides group of community stakeholders to consolidate their ideas spatially.


The design of built environments is becoming increasingly influenced by gentrification. This process is often characterised as the “renewal” of seemingly deteriorated urban areas, all too often to make way for future middle income residents. This is due to the consequent rapid property price increases that alienate established local residents. Even when social housing is “renewed” by the State, this often means that public land will be sold and redeveloped by private entities. This too leads to housing beyond the reach of traditional residents; namely by being ‘priced out’ of a home that was once affordable, or by displacement due to relocation required for a renewal scheme. A by-product of gentrification is very often a social disaster. Globally, many urban renewal plans are savvy enough to tick-box an agenda for public housing and “community” spaces, however increasing evidence substantiates that gentrification often couples an ultimate ghettoisation of socially disadvantaged groups.

Figure 2: Collaborators working on individual plans.

Figure 3: Collaborators from each group apply their concepts to a master plan that accommodates a collective vision for the neighbourhood.

In Urban Weaving, Jeremy Till describes ‘urban renewal’ as implying that what is there—including its people—needs social reconstruction, rather than working with the ‘particularity and potentiality’ of local people. The very same groups that live in a suburb because of economical, cultural and historical factors—those whose specificity might have shaped the significance of ‘place’ to an area—are time and again the people facing the most adversity during gentrification. If to accept Till’s view that the ‘violence of the planned’ as characterised by urban renewal agendas might continue the imposition of power upheld by colonial legacy, what might a decolonial option look like? Could gentrification be used as a catalyst to mobilise social equity if ‘potentiality’ is understood by transforming, rather than wiping out, the context of a place?

Figure 4: A Heidelberg West resident engages with Crazy Eights.

This project aims to view the global phenomena of gentrification through a local lens. In particular, it is a response to localised concerns that Heidelberg West—a historically low socio-economic inner-city suburb of Melbourne—is on the cusp of immense social change. This concern arises from State Government initiated public-private housing redevelopments in various inner-city sites, one of which is Heidelberg West.

Figure 5: A religious leader describes the outcomes of his Crazy Eight to others from the community.

The photographic documentation (above) shows participatory workshops that formed field-based research for various local government and non-governmental organisations engaged in community development work in Heidelberg West.

Longform: Medium, Shortform: Twitter.

Of_Substance acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation as the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet and work. We recognise that sovereignty over the land has never been ceded, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.