Policy Narratives versus Everyday Geographies: Perceptions of Changing Local Space in Melbourne's Diverse North

Shanthi Robertson & Val Colic-Peisker

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Robertson, S. & Colic-Peisker, V. (1). Policy Narratives versus Everyday Geographies: Perceptions of Changing Local Space in Melbourne's Diverse North. City & Community, 14(1), 68–86. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cico.12098

cohesion , consumption , cosmopolitan , diversity , everyday experience , gentrification , immigration , isolation , marginalization , multiculturalism , Neoliberalism

This paper presents a comparative case study of two northern suburbs in Melbourne, Australia, in order to analyze local perceptions of proximity, mobility, and spaces of community interaction within diverse neighborhoods experiencing socioeconomic and demographic transition. We first look at government policies concerning the two suburbs, which position one suburb within a narrative of gentrification and the other within a narrative of marginalization. We then draw on diverse residents’ experiences and perceptions of local space, finding that these “everyday geographies” operate independently of and often at odds with local policy narratives of demographic and socioeconomic transition. We conclude that residents’ “everyday geographies” reveal highly varied and contested experiences of sociospatial dimensions of local change, in contrast to policy narratives that are often neoliberally framed.

Main finding
Although “Northburb” had many commercial spaces, “Greenburb” residents had more spaces that encouraged community engagements. In Northburb, the commercial spaces were appreciated, but contributed to internal divisions and inequalities, while residents of Greenburb reported a safe and vibrant network of non-commercial community gathering spaces. This is in contrast to the policy narratives surrounding the two Melbourne suburbs that construct Northburb as a gentrifying success, inviting outside visitors into cosmopolitan spaces of consumption, and Greenburb as a marginalized, enclosed, and peripheral space. The authors suggest using everyday geographies of local residents to rethink what is considered “successful” and “marginal” in planning diverse localities.

Description of method used in the article
The 2011 Australian Census data was used to inform two case studies of suburbs in Melbourne, Australia. Focus groups, a workshop with policymakers and service providers, and an analysis of local policy documents were conducted to gather data. When collecting data, seven focus groups and 28 individual interviews were conducted. Researchers interviewed one hundred and ten locals from various ethnic backgrounds and economic and social situations. Observational ‘transect walks,’ a group participant observation exercise led by local residents, were also utilized to observe how locals perceived and used spaces.

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