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ACROSS Canberra suburban groups regularly have to deal with the onslaught of inappropriate and badly designed developments. There are volunteer champions out there working on behalf of their neighbours. The suburban groups have to rely on the joint voice of a combined community council with connections to government and the means to bring wider attention to the local issues. Most of the time this works – but not always.
For years there have been debates, consultations and all manner of proposals for the site in Dickson known bureaucratically as Section 72, referred to by those who cherish it as the Dickson Parklands. Why the Dickson Parklands?
The site consists of social, cultural and other facilities embraced within open spaces and cherished heritage trees and shrubbery. The title does not indicate that the area should be one large park. The title reflects the area’s ambience, loads of wonderful greenery that needs to be enhanced – not removed. The community desire is to have this precinct continue as an attractive place in Dickson for community, social, cultural and arts activities – not housing. The community is not against public housing – but just not on the Dickson Parklands.
All this has been explained numerous times to the bureaucracy. More importantly this has been discussed with the North Canberra Community Council (NCCC) which has been encouraged to adopt this in its advocacy.
Therefore, it came as a shock to hear the NCCC executive question why some people use the title the Dickson Parklands (by local residents maybe?) whereas the preferred description by the NCCC chair is to call this cherished community site the Dickson Wastelands. This he proudly stated at a recent meeting.
One imagines that those who manage the present facilities, being religious, holiday apartments, a dance studio, the community centre, childcare, the men’s shed, and the ANCA arts studios would not like to have their organisations being represented as being part of a wasteland. Is community work regarded as a waste? It must be noted that the holiday apartments are called the Parkland Apartments (not Section 72 Apartments or Wasteland Apartments).
The 2018 consultations on the use of the site have been extremely disappointing with few residents bothering to attend (wonder why). Disappointing because of the bureaucratic tricks, misleading statements and spin, but also because of the lack of enthusiasm by the NCCC to pursue the clear aspirations of residents. For instance, because of the government’s badly run consultations and the very dubious methodology, it was suggested that the NCCC call a special public meeting to discuss the issues and to bring everyone up to date. With hundreds of residents having expressed opinions over the last years, why not bring them together again as a community-initiated event.
Disappointingly this idea was talked down and no such meeting happened.
Given the way other joint community councils rise to the occasion when residents seek public meetings, it has been frustrating to see the call for timely action suppressed. Was this to avoid facilitating opposition to the government’s push to build on this site? Are the NCCC’s links to the Chief Minister now a stumbling block to the processes of representing inner-north residents? One wonders if this lack of enthusiasm to represent residents’ voices is impacting planning decisions across all of the inner-north, such as along Northbourne, the lakeside and contentious suburban proposals in Reid, Braddon, Turner and let’s not forget what is happening in Campbell.
The Dickson Parklands is definitely not a wasteland. It is a cherished site with huge community cultural potential. This is not about rejecting social housing. This is about wondering why the bureaucracy, the government and the NCCC will not join with residents to enhance this community space. Is it too hard to imagine this site being busy with arts activities, community events, children playing and residents of all ages getting together? A fun place among the trees.
Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters. He has written on public housing before at the-southern-cross.com/people