Councillor Jonathan Sri provides his latest update on what’s new at Davies Park and his thoughts about the Kurilpa Community Day and Laura Street Festival. He also talks about a campaign to pressure Hanson Cement and other businesses that support the development industry in 4101 to act in the community’s interest.
WECA hosted the Kurilpa Community Day on 19 September. What were the highlights for you?
Considering the challenges of COVID, WECA did an amazing job to bring us Kurilpa Community Day.
There was a lot of interesting stuff happening. I got to have some excellent discussions with local residents, including the forum we ran about the need for a new skate park in West Ends and the south side. It was interesting – the majority of skaters that came along were women or non-binary people, and they were articulating very strongly that there’s a need for more safe skate spaces for women. So that was a cool forum, and I thought one of the best bits about Kurilpa Community Day was the opportunity to have those different community conversations about the future of the neighbourhood.
Amy MacMahon and I also had an open Q&A discussion, which was really interesting because some people wanted to talk a lot about local issues like the future of Riverside Drive or development along Montague Road. Other people wanted to talk about big picture issues in terms of politics and social change and the role of electoralism, and the role of radical grassroots movements. So, I almost found that kind of civic engagement aspect of the event to be one of the most sort of positive and useful. There are lots of events that have gigs and live music, but most community festivals don’t make space for what might be called democratic or civic engagement, and I thought that was really cool.
I loved Kurilpa Community Day but it was hot, what are your thoughts about the venue and timing of the event?
As others have commented, it was a very, very hot day for an outdoor event on an oval. For me, this highlights that with global warming, changing our climate will make it harder for daytime events like this to happen, particularly in the hotter months of the year. It makes me think about how in a lot of countries I’ve travelled to in the tropics or hotter regions, it’s normal that you don’t do big daytime events – you tend to have more stuff happening at nighttime. So, festivals will kick off in the late afternoon and evening and go right through almost until sunrise. And that’s a bit of a cultural difference from Brisbane, where even in the inner city, many events tend to happen during the day. So maybe part of adapting to climate change means changing expectations about how much nighttime sound there can be from events. And maybe people will have to accept that if we want to continue to have these big community festivals, they’ll have to happen later at night.
How do we get people who are newer to West End to embrace these sorts of community events?
I think this sort of divide between the so-called new West End and Old West End is a little bit contrived or simplistic because what we’re actually seeing is a wide range of people moving into the neighbourhood. Some people are moving into West End simply because they want to be closer to the city, and in some cases, they’ve got quite suburban sensibilities. They may have less tolerance for noise and stuff, but we’ve also got heaps of people, including a lot of young people who are moving in because they want the nightlife and the counter-cultural atmosphere and the arts and the music. Those people are quite tolerant of a lot more noise.
I think the vast majority of West End residents are really comfortable with a bit of noise from live music and community events, and considering everything that happens in this suburb and how many wild and raucous events happen, there are very few complaints. You can look at an event like the full moon festival every month – there are hundreds of fire twirlers, and bongo drums gathered down in Orleigh Park. We never get a single complaint about that stuff. So, I think that’s a good sign that most people are still fairly accepting.
You are also very supportive of the coming Laura Street Festival: why do you think it’s important for the community?
The next big festival on the local community events calendar is the Laura Street Festival. One of the things I love about this is how it blurs the lines between the public and the private sphere because most of the stages and activities are happening in people’s backyards or under houses. So, while the street is the centre of the activity, everyone’s drawn into semi-private spaces. I find it exciting that people are willing to open up and share a part of their home. For me, that’s a really important aspect of building a sense of community connection and neighbourliness; it’s not just gigs happening at bars or in commercial spaces or public parks, it’s happening in people’s private houses, and that shows a lot of community trust that people are willing to open up their homes or their yards to complete strangers, and in doing so, those strangers stop being strangers.
One of the exciting things is that this year for the first time, we’re formally closing off the street. In the past, the road was technically still open to cars, whereas this year, where we’ve got the approvals from Council, That will mean that the street will be safe for kids to run around and parents won’t have to stress as much.
I think it’s also really exciting to see another generation of young event organizers who are still making cool stuff happen despite not getting paid and despite having so many other challenges in life,
Among other things, I’m holding a couple of talks at the Laura Street Festival. One is about renters’ rights and gentrification, and the rising cost of housing in the area. Another forum will be about the future of Highgate Hill in terms of transport and design and thinking about how we can advocate for better bus services like improvements to the 192. We will also discuss how we can make the neighbourhood more walkable and safer for pedestrians and cyclists rather than just for cars. So, yeah, looking forward to that.
What next for the Davies Park renewal project?
There’s another round of improvements happening at Davies Park. These were partly funded out of my local suburban enhancement fund budget and partly funded by a Federal Government COVID recovery grant. One of the conditions is that the work was supposed to finish by the end of this calendar year. And so, Council is now really scrambling to get the job done fairly quickly.
There are three main elements to the project.
One is wheelchair accessible ramp linking from the internal Davies Park ring road down to Riverside Drive. People who go to the markets Davies Park on a Saturday will know there’s a steep and badly eroded slope connecting from the market area down to the river. A lot of people with prams and shopping carts struggle with that slope. So, we’re putting in a concrete path to improve access and stop the slope from getting so badly eroded. It is really hard to get wheelchair accessible gradients on such a steep slope, so I’m a little worried that there will be quite a lot of concrete involved. And that’s always a tricky trade-off, but I think the access benefits will justify the work.
The second element is a little circular path next to the skate plaza over on the Montague Roadside. This will give kids a riding track, so smaller kids on little bikes and scooters will be able to ride around in a loop, similar to what you see happening in Bunyapa Park. This seems to be an approach that some of the council designers like – having these circuit paths that don’t necessarily lead anywhere, but they’re just a good circuit track for kids. I’m still pushing to get cars out of Davie’s Park altogether. And I think, rather than having to build separate smaller paths for kids to ride their bikes around, it would be nicer if we could close off the ring road to cars, and then kids could ride their bikes all over that ring road. It seems Council and perhaps South Leagues are still keen on maintaining a lot of car access into the park, so that’s still an ongoing conversation.
The third element of the upgrades is a nature playground for smaller kids over on the soccer field side. I’m excited about that project; I think it’s an example of Council being a bit more innovative and creative in embracing genuine nature play. There’s a lot of faux-nature play around where you see playgrounds that have been built out of natural looking logs or even, you know, plastic stuff that looks like trees. It’s called nature play. Genuine nature play is less prescriptive in terms of how kids can interact with them. So, you’re creating an environment that stimulates creativity and inspires kids to use their imaginations.
This little nature play space will have a lot of different levels – kids will be able to climb up a little bit or go down into little sort of depressions where they can feel like they’re hiding a bit more. I think there’s also a little sandpit. It might not look much like a traditional playground, but I think kids will get into it – particularly for inner-city kids who live in an apartment and don’t have a backyard; it’s important to provide spaces that facilitate connection to the natural world.
Allowing children to take risks is really important, and part of cognitive development, and they become more confident as they develop fine motor skills and cognitive skills. So, I think we have a really important obligation to ensure kids can play in those sorts of spaces.
We’re also planting a few new trees that will grow up and provide a bit more shade over the play space in the future. So rather than having to build really big intensive shade sails, we’ll be able to use trees for shade, and that’s a preference of mine as well.
You and Amy MacMahon recently wrote to Hanson Cement about overdevelopment, why?
Recently state MP Amy McMahon and I wrote a joint letter to Hanson Cement (owned by the Heidelberg cement group), asking them to commit to not working on three particular development projects: the ARIA development on Merrivale Street, which is the 26 storeys high rise; the two towers next to Davies Park; and the proposal to knock down the Riviera Apartments at 5 Dudley Street.
We’ve written Hanson’s and said these three projects are so out of step with community expectations and so controversial and so contrary to the public interest that we’re asking you not to not to take any contracts relating to them.
This letter asks Hanson to pick a side and clearly signal whether it’s a part of the community or just a business focused on profiting from development. I think it’s part of holding other companies responsible for what’s going on in terms of overdevelopment in the area rather than just the developers themselves. There are a whole bunch of different industries and stakeholders that benefit from the property industry, but they don’t come under any direct pressure or scrutiny from a social change, strategic approach. So those other industries might be called ‘pillars of support’. If you’re trying to challenge unsustainable development and profiteering from the commodification of housing, you don’t just go after the developers; you need to withdraw those other pillars of support. And so, this kind of letter is part of that process.
We haven’t received a reply from Hanson yet.
See a copy of the joint letter at this link: https://www.facebook.com/jonno.sri/posts/400252564803663
Cover image by @jbowpics