THE fast-growing suburb of Redfern will become choked with traffic unless the government builds an underground railway station to cope with its proposal for an influx of new residents, the City of Sydney has warned.

In response to government plans to build an extra 3500 units in Redfern and the neighbouring Waterloo, the council wants an inquiry into transport that specifically considers the cost benefit and design of a new station it wants called Waterloo.

In a submission to the Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority, a body set up last year to transform the suburbs on the CBD's southern fringe, the council said a station could be added to the Airport Rail Link that runs under Redfern, although engineering issues mean it would be ''not without its challenges''.

Unless it's built, the huge urban renewal project is doomed, it said.

''Enhancing the range of transport options and including high quality links is essential to prevent what might be a vibrant and attractive precinct from becoming a congested and isolated island development,'' the council told the authority this month.

The authority says it will respond soon to the call for a new station and to other submissions over its plans to break down what is the biggest concentration of public housing tenants in the state.

It has proposed a contentious 25-year plan to boost the number of properties on public land from 3500 to 7000. Half of those will be sold to the private sector, 2800 will be public housing and 700 affordable housing, although locals are concerned about many aspects of the plan including how public and private units will be mixed, the loss of green space and how the authority will honour its promise to find 700 dwellings within the City of Sydney area for tenants who will be displaced.

Despite these concerns, it's clear Redfern is facing its biggest change since the 1970s when the government resumed hundreds of privately owned properties and built thousands of flats and high-rise towers for public housing tenants.

That huge concentration of public housing and decades of Aboriginal crime and drug abuse in and around The Block have long shaped perceptions of Redfern as a risky no-go zone.

When the city council last year commissioned a study to see what people in nearby suburbs thought of Redfern and Waterloo, they found most viewed it as the main Aboriginal centre in Sydney, a rundown and dirty area where security was a big concern. Just one in 12 people strongly agreed with the proposition it was ''welcoming and inviting''.

Yet a walk down many of Redfern's streets today reveals the suburb has a flip side, with owners of freshly renovated terraces breakfasting on ricotta hotcakes at tables dotted along granite-paved footpaths, evidence the latte line is pushing ever deeper into egg and bacon roll country.

A local real estate agent, Charles Touma of BresicWhitney, grew up in Redfern and said the transformation of the suburb had been ''huge'', especially in the past nine years. Big prices paid in the eastern end of the suburb are now edging westwards towards the railway, although he says the station remains ''a place to avoid''.

''Redfern was a bit rough, it had a lot of older Europeans, now it's younger people, people with young families, people like myself; it's 100 per cent safer.''

The Block, too, is very different. Nearly 25 years after the Aboriginal Housing Company produced a concept plan to redevelop it, most of the dilapidated terraces have been flattened, their occupants gone, and the streets are lined with signs proclaiming an alcohol free zone that seems widely observed. A film company is using the flattened site as a movie set while the Planning Department considers plans for a $70 million project that includes 62 townhouses and units for Aborigines as well as a commercial space including shops, an underground parking station and student accommodation open to anyone.

Despite evidence new wealth is displacing Redfern's poor, the company chief executive, Michael Mundine, says he does not feel threatened his community will be forced out and believes a redeveloped Block will send Aboriginal roots in Redfern deeper by breaking down fear and distrust.

''This land is the heart of Redfern, if we don't develop it, Redfern will never flourish,'' he said.

''People should not be scared to come here.''

  • Redfern is named after a surgeon, William Redfern, who was granted 100 acres of land in 1817 by Lachlan Macquarie.
  • By 1945 it was home to 158 factories.
  • In 1921 the population was 50,482, before dropping to 42,817 just after World War II and to about 20,000 in 2004. With new unit construction the population is growing again.
  • In 2006 the census said Redfern alone had a population of 11,482 people, with indigenous people making up 2.4 per cent of the population. Thirty five per cent of the population was born overseas.
  • Redfern gave birth to Aboriginal-run health, legal and children's services in the 1970s