Community buying parks

Following on from the idea that State Government can play a bigger role in the provision of park, as they did at Kangaroo Point.  I’d also say that COMMUNITY also should also be playing a bigger role.

In a recent email debate with WECA, about responsibility and accountability within the planning process.  I reflect on the negativity and frustration that I have heard about within the process for the South Brisbane Riverside neighborhood plan.  I would say these feelings are not unique to this plan alone.

The following are extracts from email conversations with WECA president, Darren, in response to his anger, frustrations and resignment with BCC, planning process, and planners.

To give some context this is just part of his response –

“what’s also missing is an acknowledgement that this human investment in providing and promoting locally generated and led ‘solutions’ has been repeatedly ignored by Council, for many reasons -some personal, some just political, some out of spite alone. it would be wrong not to say so. it would also be disrespectful to gloss over this reality and encourage the thousands of people to behave as if it never happened.

there remains little acceptance of the powerful position of Council and, therefore, its greater responsibility. for several years now I’ve been promoting the principle of local leadership over local development. and no matter peoples’ sustained, continued best efforts the actions of BCC continue to undermine this principle.”

In part of my 2nd response back to WECA, I try to again say that communities just as much as Council need to take responsibility for urban outcomes.  It’s too easy to just blame BCC, and that’s frustrating to everyone involved.

I say back –

“I mentioned this to Emma in a different email, and I say the same to you.

“Honestly the frustration community feels, planners also feel.

Neighborhood plans are only a framework, they only do so much.

Things like house prices are not in in our (planners) control and things like “sense of community” it can’t be controlled or even taken away.

It is a one of many many, MANY steps in the process of making cities. I don’t even think it is the most powerful step anymore, and hence i don’t work in land use policy, and more in community development

Great to hear a positive direction

A meeting about a Green Precinct sounds more fun to me that a meeting bitching about BCC.

anger and negativity gets tiring,

fun, positivity, creativity is NEVER tiring to anyone.”

Darren – I respect the amount of human investment and clear passion in the community, but I would also suggest you are wasting investments

In response to

“providing and promoting locally generated and led ‘solutions’ has been repeatedly ignored by Council, for many reasons, for many reasons -some personal, some just political, some out of spite alone”

I don’t know what “solutions” means exactly – but I’m going to assume its things like community development projects or suggestion in local plan drafting.

I respect this but instead of blaming other people, consider that perhaps they didn’t get off the ground for very LEGIT reasons.

Take some responsibility for that as a group and don’t entirely blame Council or reduce it to some personal attack (which frankly I bet you it is not- no offence that is a false sense of self importance)

Take some responsibility, learn from your process and move on from it.

This is not as you say “glossing over it disrespectfully”. It is called learning from your mistakes, and improving your actions

For example, a seemingly great idea might be unsuccessful because

a) good idea but it’s never well communicated enough

This is especially true if it is expressed as I suspect with bullying, anger, protest (you capture the attention of noone – do you tune out when your friend is whinging to you about life/work/kids? yeah probably, it gets boring. same thing with how you talk to BCC)

or it is not communicated well enough to the target audience – example communicating an idea about policy, not understanding the full policy framework or its language – does not makes it convincing, concise to BCC

b) good idea but not communicated to the right people –

you need to influence the right people, directly.

Did you talk to people directly by just sitting down and talking or did you attack them through media? Did any come to planners to suggest changes to consultation process or did you just complain about it without offering solutions?

c) ideas might not be developed enough practically

– are they sustainable ongoing projects (in terms of finance, human, resources)

– are they designed as a complete systems and network. “start small, scale fast” this is design thinking that community projects could use

– are they grounded in technical backing/research – have you costed them and gotten good advice

Amongst community groups – there is a difference in the capacity to think, plan, do, make stuff happen. Example this is the difference in a group like Northey St to say another community farm start up. NSCF they aren’t dumb – they are making money, employing people, generating space. From the outside – their solutions are strong, and one aspect is that their solutions are well thought out and collaborative. (and i bet WECA successful ideas have had the same principles too)

Give me an example of some “solution”, one that apparently “failed”, and I’m pretty sure I could break it down as to why it didn’t work and give you some better strategy

A key skill planners particular have and what i did in Toronto – is strategic thinking – that can be applied powerfully to any projects/systems design.

This is a skill community groups need – it’s the ability to see across multiple complex issues and interests, connections to actually collaborate, leverage support and create holistic solutions. Sure you might have it but I’m not seeing expressed in your emails

If your “solutions”/ideas (example Emma mentioned a Green Precinct) are strong enough they frankly should work regardless without BCC – you don’t need them,

“there remains little acceptance of the powerful position of Council and, therefore, its greater responsibility. “

That’s because YOU put them in that position, and you can do that, and that means you don’t have to take responsibility yourself. Why do you let them hold such “NO” power over you? you are the only ones “letting them” disempower you.

Sure some extra funding from government helps on community projects BUT build models/projects that DON’T NEED Council support. How can you be more strategic?Do you know how much untapped capacity there is with businesses, developers etc?Design a great initiative it will happen!

A group I did a project for –  Sustainable South Bronx, New York – are creating employment around street furniture, maintaining and educating about street trees, master planning and getting support for new parks. But here, are you just waiting for Council to do it? YES of course, because that is the culture here, that you’ll continue to perpetuate if you keep having that negative attitude. – you continue to disempower your community by giving BCC all the responsibility – and what is the payoff?  No outcomes but yes you get to keep saying you are ‘right’ and they are ‘wrong’ – that’s a hollow victory.

BCC they do what they can, and I promise there ARE people internally doing their best for community outcomes, but they can’t do it all – nor should they –

Let’s just take the example of parks, because I like parks –

Do you know how expensive and hard it is for Council to buy parkland now, especially in inner city? They have battle market just like everyone else – its a lot of millions Parks don’t have. and sure you can bitch about budget allocation, but i don’t want to hear it

OR community can take some responsibility to empower change.

So how about it – for example why doesn’t a community rally to build something, to buy parkland –

Does WECA love West End enough to hand over cash not just time? How many in WECA have the socio-econmic standing higher than other members of the public? who do they know with money? how many rich yuppies live in the inner city? Why doesn’t someone inspire them?

I bet if you started, BCC could then put in a portion. To anyone – it’s a more appealing, tangible option to paying for “some” rather than the “whole”.

Always look for “win-wins”.  You want to inspire anyone/ group/ individual – always ask “what’s in it for them?”

Example do it in partnership with Council – it would be win-win. Match them dollar for dollar, use that then to negotiate management and use of that space

Guess what – that seems like a more powerful idea to me than a community yelling about how you think a Davies Park plan isn’t “good enough”

This is what High Line did  – they raised money to design and build it, and the city came in later to further support ongoing things. But they are a non profit that still raise money to pay people to clean, maintain it – as a deal with the city. BCC has this deal I’m sure I have read with bushcare groups looking after public space or something – but with no groups with that strong capacity around to do this looking after, it doesn’t get done (or a further strain on Council to do so)

and this is back to my point the culture of community is not at the level I saw overseas. But it could be if you/group take responsibility too and not just expect it out of others. (it is like trust, respect and in friendships – you can’t expect it back if you don’t give it out first!)

it’s a two way street. and you can’t bitch about a system unless you are willing to step up and change it.

Community groups should think like business – think about the skill sets you need, the hours you invest for results you get, the people/clients you need to network with, evaluating all the time what is working or not. If “human investment” is like “money” in a business – would you say WECA is making profits or bleeding money? I don’t know

Someone great once told me with PARK(ing) “create a parade for the politicians to get in front of” – build the community momentum first, the support will come. and it’s true – why wait around for them to step up?

“Be the change you want to be” – stop talking about community change and just “be” it, do it

Be creative, strategic, stop being so narrow focussed even.  Stop even looking at West End alone – how do you place yourselves to support and form groups around Brisbane? Why is West End known for it’s strong community – how do you spread that so other suburbs can then also support you in projects or dealings with BCC?

“create the parade” for others (and politicians) to get behind.

Instead of standing in the middle of the street unproductively yelling at traffic, stop the traffic by creating and leading an organized, powerful , fun street parade for inspiring community action

I’m still hearing negative “us vs them” crap.  If/ when you are ever ready to take responsibility and play the real game – the game where COLLABORATION is the only way to make real change. Then I’ll be open to the discussion and help you guys with any insights and connections as I can, as I was offering Emma in the very first email.”


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