Often politics feels so far removed that we don’t engage. The establishment looks big and its weight seems unbearable; it makes us feel as if we have no stake or power. When these feelings of detachment and powerlessness creep in and settle with us, we become sceptical that our opinion matters. And so, we don’t even invest the time in formulating our opinions. We look away and hope for the best. We convince ourselves that things are as they should be. In fact, we relinquish the opportunity to mould our own environment according to our wants and needs.

Political detachment is a choice and it can be otherwise.

City Council Elections are coming soon – 28th of March 2020. This is an opportunity for people to reconnect. People can either decide to stay with the feeling of powerlessness and disengagement and go with the flow hoping for the best, or they can jump in the bandwagon of civic participation to explore what matters to them. Local politics dictates much of our surrounding and immediate life: how our neighbourhoods are shaped and developed; the ins and outs of public transport; local services such as libraries and cultural centres; care and support for the vulnerable and those in need. And so, local politics is the best place to engage and reclaim the power to express what matters to us. Even those who believe that they have no problems and that politics does not affect them directly surely have something to say about the streets that they walk and the businesses that they interact with daily.

At Reimagining Brisbane, a conference/consultation time organised by The Gabba Ward Councillor, Jonathan Sri and held on the 1st of February at QUT, people had the opportunity to discuss the issues that matter to us. Many academics, consultants, activists, and people from the general public invested their time to get together and share knowledge and concerns about the future of Brisbane.

Here are some of the issues and questions that were discussed:

  • Decolonise the city: The conference offered an opportunity to reflect on the legacies of colonisation and to discuss what a decolonised Brisbane looks like. What does it mean to affirm and respect Aboriginal people’s sovereignty? How can Indigenous ways of being be promoted and prioritised in todays’ society? How can we redistribute power and resources to empower Indigenous communities? How can we ensure that decolonisation is not just tokenistic recognition?
  • Transportation and development: People expressed concerns about the lack of strategic urban planning around new developments and transportation. Brisbane is experiencing impressive growth, but the long-term vision seems myopic. Among the issues that were discussed are: public transports are unreliable and expensive; the city encourages transportation by car rather than public transport; new developments are not envisioning enough public and green spaces; more can be done to improve sustainability and liveability of Brisbane such as prioritising active transport including biking and walking and investing in communal spaces.
  • Resilient Brisbane: at a time of indomitable bushfires, extremely hot summers, and unpredictable flooding, people are concerned about the future. How do we adapt? How do we ensure that we don’t lose everything that we have and that we can continue to have food to sustain life? An important point that was discussed was the possibility of fostering urban agriculture which would cut costs of food and reduce CO2 emissions by cutting down on food transportation. We need to reconnect to land and the process of producing food. Most of us only see fruit and vegetables on the shelves of the supermarket or market’s stalls. But where does our food come from? How can we reconnect to Indigenous practices of food production and give Indigenous people the power to take care of Country like did 60 000 years before European invasion?
  • Arts and Culture: many people agree that more can be done to foster local art which is an important way to bring people together and strengthen communities. Among the issues that were discussed was the importance to prioritise Indigenous art and culture (and not just in tokenistic ways) and the restraints that corporate involvement puts on cultural productions.  
  • Homelessness and housing affordability: we hear a lot about people having to move because they can no longer afford to live or buy a house in the suburbs where they grew up or feel a connection. Brisbane is growing fast, but people are concerned that not everyone can enjoy the benefits of growth, and that growth is actively harming some, especially the most vulnerable in society.

Reimagining Brisbane created a safe space to discuss concerns and policy actions. Many people have never done that or thought that they could have done that. There are certainly many issues that matter to people that were not discussed at the conference, but it was a great model of civic participation.

Reimagining Brisbane was an example of direct democracy where residents are consulted in person (as opposed to online surveys which make people feel unheard), and where they can come together to workshop policy recommendations.