Several community groups and individuals have told The Westender that they have serious concerns about a new Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)[1] audit of the Boundary Street precinct in West End. Among the concerns raised are what appears to be a limited consultation process, lack of a clear evidence-base for the identified issues, and narrowly focused recommendations.

The audit was commissioned by the West End Traders Association (WETA) and prepared by Urbis. When releasing the report on the 13th of May, WETA President, Peter Martinelli, said that anti-social behaviour had been on the rise in the Boundary Street area and has been impacting on local businesses. WETA called on Brisbane City Council and Gabba Ward Councillor, Jonathan Sri to take immediate action to improve safety in the precinct.

 “Customer numbers are down, shop and office leases are remaining vacant and it is having a negative impact on amenity for this great local community,”

“The CPTED report demonstrates that safety is being compromised due to poor urban design; some of the most marginalised people in the area are at the greatest risk of crime because of these dirty, badly lit places,” Mr Marinelli said.

The three Boundary Street areas that are the focus of report are People’s Park, The Fig Tee/Goanna area on the corner of Russell Street and the Commonwealth Bank forecourt at the corner of Mollison St. Suggested changes for these areas include:

  • Increased surveillance through CCTV cameras
  • Increased lighting
  • Suggested relocated/redesign of People’s Park
  • Upgrades including graffiti removal and landscape maintenance
  • The placement of street furniture so that seating cannot happen on both sides of the street

Mr Marinelli told The Westender that WETA had not engaged with other community groups in the preparation of the report. He said it is WETA’s job to represent its members and that it is up to the State Government and Council to engage more widely.

Click here to download a copy of the WETA CPTED Study.

People’s Park

Responses from Community Groups

Adrian Bruzolic, President of the West End Community Association (WECA) told The Westender that the methodology employed in the study “cannot be regarded as scientific”. 

“It is opinion based at best and the opinions it is based on have highly vested interests.  Moreover, the study provides no information about the number of informants surveyed and there is no way to establish what the statement, “engagement with local businesses and the community” actually means”, he said.

Mr Buzolic added that, “Anti-social behaviour is not defined in the report although references are made to “alcohol and drug use”, asking for money and food and the establishment of a “gauntlet” of people on either side of a footpath.  The report does not appear to classify such behaviour as anti-social when displayed by sidewalk diners, collectors for charity and patrons leaving licensed premises.”

Community group Kurilpa Futures told The Westender that it acknowledges that there are some important safety issues to be addressed in Boundary Street and that traders need support. Pam Bourke representing Kurilpa Futures noted in her response that traders in Boundary Street have been impacted by unplanned development and the changing uses of the street, including the loss of businesses such as fruit and butchers shops, and the much busier night economy, but she said that Kurilpa Futures, ”is dismayed at the focus and conclusions of the CPTED report. Some groups such as Indigenous and homeless people will be particularly impacted by this report’s recommendations and therefore should have a voice in this report. Their views should have been included”.

What’s the Evidence?

Adrian Bruzolic said that while it may be the case that crime has increased in the precinct, the crime statistics presented in the report do not support the claim that crime and anti-social behaviour has increased on Boundary Street, and he considers that further investigation is required.

“The report purports to be designed to prevent anti-social behaviour but it does not consider why there might be an increased problem of such behaviour in the area”, he said.

Mr John Mongard, award winning landscape architect and urban designer, told The Westender that there is no evidence of the correlation between crime and that of anti-social street behaviour in the crime figures for West End noted in the report.

“Theft, the handling of stolen goods, increases in drug consumption, and general property damage figures for the whole of West End cannot be directly linked to antisocial behaviour from so called ‘undesirable’ people using public space on Boundary Street”, he said.

The impacts of gentrification

In his response via WECA, local resident and urban sociologist at the University of Queensland, Dr Peter Walters outlined the history of Boundary Street and the relationship of the Indigenous community and homeless people to West End.

“Boundary Street is named for its role as a boundary beyond which the original indigenous residents of Kurilpa were not allowed at night.  Despite these early efforts to spatially control the original inhabitants of the area, West End is one of a small number of areas in Brisbane where indigenous people still have a connection to urban country.  They have been in the area long before recent businesses started to see them as untidy and some sort of threat to public order.”

“The homeless also have a long history in this neighbourhood. It is one of the few areas in the city where they have, until relatively recently, enjoyed a measure of acceptance and familiarity with local residents and long-term local businesses who have been prepared to see them as fully formed people rather than a threatening category.  Over the past decade there has been a concerted effort by council, property developers and businesses to clear away the homeless from this part of the city.  The consequence of this is that the homeless are dislocated from familiar space and people, and away from essential services that provide them with food, emergency accommodation and mental health services.”

Dr Walters considers that the plan to ‘clean up’ Boundary Street under the cover of crime prevention, is, “a direct appeal to suspicion and ignorance about the history and qualities of this neighbourhood. The CPTED is a clear sign that the ‘final stage’ of gentrification has commenced, where everything that made the neighbourhood authentic is finally removed and commodification is complete.”

Micah Project spokesperson, Jim DeCouto also noted that,

“Gentrification, high-end development and the wider user-pay community within the Boundary Street precinct, have all had a significant impact on residents from lower socioeconomic groups in the spaces that have been identified in this report.”

Safety by design

WECA President Adrian Bruzolic, told The Westender that the report does not separate poor maintenance issues from design flaws. 

“That poor maintenance should be addressed does not require a CPTED analysis.  ‘Vacant buildings’ are noted a number of times in the report as being due to crime and anti-social behaviour.  It is contended that high rents and poor property maintenance could easily be the cause of this.” Mr Bruzolic said.

John Mongard also questions whether crime is the central problem or whether issues identified in the report stem from lack of council maintenance and repairs in Boundary Street and People’s Park and a lack of care about the public spaces in West End.

Mr Mongard told The Westender that surveillance cameras are the result of a failure in good public space design.

Mr Mongard was involved in the original design of the streetscape between Russell, Boundary and Vulture streets in 1992. He said that the design process then, was based on real engagement which included traders, and community and government agencies, “accepting that all the public are legitimate users of our public spaces, and that the solution is not just to remove certain people from public spaces”.

He said that the three key public spaces that are the focus of WETA’s report, “were designed to increase the use and vibrancy of the main street and to provide high quality public spaces.”

“The West End streetscape project was the template for all the suburban centre improvements carried out in the city ever since.  These spaces were specifically to provide increased casual surveillance: people active on the street is the best way to provide safe public places”, Mr Mongard said.

For a report on the 1990s West End Street Scape project, click here.

Opportunities

Peter Walters, and others, have also questioned whether resources would be better directed to anti-social behaviour created by the many new bars and drinking establishments in Boundary Street. 

Micah focused on practical solutions in its response to The Westender. It considers that one solution to the issues arising in People’s Park would be to relocate distribution of free food via food and coffee vans to Kurilpa hall to maintain social inclusion in a more affordable dignified manner for people on low incomes who live locally and participate in community life.

“If this solution were to be actualised, then existing social and support services can also participate while discretely offering health services and support to those who need it. This also informally increases the supervision of the space, which could lead to lower incidence of behaviour and increasing the social satisfaction levels of the participants. Currently the set down area of the food vans at Small Park is not fit for purpose as it encourages, queues, crowding and contested usage of space in a small confined space. After the event of food distribution people stay on to connect socially which can lead to alcohol consumption and drug use in that space.”

Seleneah More, planning spokesperson for WECA, proposed that resources would have been better spent on appropriate social/cultural responses. For example, she suggests, “resourcing the community sector services properly, after hours support workers, use of space for art/performances, maintenance of all of the public realm.”

Micah also considers that a socially responsible solution would be to fund social activities for people from low socio-economic groups within this and surrounding precincts to increase their social participation which will have a direct impact on their health and well-being and solving the issue of behaviour impacts in contested use of public space. “Social inclusion activities lead to better behavioural outcomes for residents experiencing the impacts of poverty and high costs of living.” 

Response by Jackie Trad MP

In a separate response to safety issues raised with her, local member Jackie Trad MP, has commenced discussion with a range of stakeholders, and acknowledges the complexity of the social issues surrounding this discussion.

On the 10th of May Ms Trad convened a meeting with traders and other groups including Micah Projects, Murri Watch, and the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women and others. This meeting was reported in the Quest’s City South News and on Ms Trad’s Facebook Site. The meeting did not include community groups such as WECA, nor was local councillor, Jonathan Sri invited.

As an outcome of the meeting, Ms Trad is working with the Police and has written to the Lord Mayor seeking commitments to improve maintenance in Boundary Street, particularly in People’s Park. Her response includes increased foot patrols, and an injection of funding into youth outreach services. Ms Trad has secured $60,000 for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Community Health to help work with young people and their families in the area. Ms Trad has also proposed using soft lighting in People’s Park rather than harsher lighting which can drive people away.

A link to Ms Trad’s letter to the Lord Mayor is here.

Mr Bruzolic for WECA, said that Ms Trad’s approach to renewal in Boundary Street has been more inclusive than that offered by WETA, but could be improved by inviting all interest groups to participate in a cooperative process.

“WECA encourages a new process that includes all interest groups, and those traders who are not members of WETA”, he said.

Urban Planning expert and Past President, Queensland Division, Planning Institute of Australia, Phil Heywood, told the Westender that Ms Trad’s inclusion of West End’s Murri community in discussions is a good first step. 

“We should welcome her proposal to Brisbane City Council for collaborative governmental funding and support for a Murri community development worker to promote, among other things, active involvement and positive public uses of  key community spaces along Boundary Street including the old Commonwealth Bank forecourt, the People’s Park, and  the popular Goanna pocket park. That’s far better than turning them into commercial spaces where people have to be buying something to be welcome”, Mr Heywood said.

Mr Heywood added that,

“Boundary Street is not just a shopping strip – it’s the heart of a very interesting and diverse community.  A much wider range of community groups need to be involved in discussions about its future than just the members of one traders’ association.”

What next?

Both WECA and Kurilpa Futures see a role for residents’ groups and others in future discussions.

Adrian Bruzolic of WECA said, “We have been able to conduct excellent community consultation processes, including on the design of Bunyapa Park”.

Kurilpa Futures also considers that there is a role for community groups.

“As a resident group Kurilpa Futures doesn’t claim to represent the whole community however we do provide people with information and we give them a chance to express their views using a range of methods. We can draw on a diverse range of skills and expertise including planning, engagement and design that would add value to any discussion”, Ms Bourke said.

If you have a view about the future of Boundary Street, contact your elected representatives, or engage with your local residents’ or community group.

[1] A CPTED (pronounced Sep-Ted) is a crime prevention strategy which outlines how physical environments can be designed in order to lessen the opportunity for crime.