By Mandy Hager
The other night I watched a documentary that reminded me about the power the community has to shape their future if they engage in the decision-making in a forthright and concerted manner.
Between 2007 and 2009 a mini-war erupted in the seaside suburb of St Kilda in Melbourne, Australia. A large carpark right on the foreshore was lined up to be developed into a giant multi-tiered retail and recreation centre once it had the local council’s consent.
While some welcomed the development as progress, many saw it as a monstrosity – an oversized, ugly building that would completely destroy the views and character of the beach.
Councillors sided with developer
Lines were soon drawn in the sand – with all the councillors, bar one, siding with the developer, while literally hundreds lobbied for the council to turn the consent down. Public meetings were called.
Publicity stunts were organised to bring media attention to the situation. Dozens of people started turning up at the council planning meetings, wielding placards and bravely vocal in their disagreement.
It was an extraordinary sight to watch the actual council meeting where the consent was approved – activated community members leaving the councillors in no doubt of their disapproval and distain.
Councillors cleaned out
As well as setting up a legal challenge and requesting that the council and their process be examined by the Ombudsman, they then took on the councillors at local-body election time, fielding candidates against every councillor except the one woman who had voted against the scheme.
In one foul swoop they unseated the mayor and her development-hungry clan (and were delivered with the Ombudsman’s report confirming dodgy dealings) and, after much negotiation with the developer, managed to buy their way out of the contract and save the land for something more in keeping with the community’s desires.
It’s a salutary lesson in community empowerment and engagement – truly inspiring as we fight our way through unnecessary and disastrous roading plans, water-metering, beach-front property issues, as well as (nationally) asset sales, degradation of social services, environmentally damaging mining and extraction practises… the list goes on.
I urge you to watch it – you can find it online at http://www.theage.com.au/tv/Current-Affairs/Triangle-Wars-2862204.html It’s a masterpiece of film-making – a fascinating exploration of the way we can all take a more active role in deciding how we want to live.
And if it fires you up to take action yourself, that’s great too! It’s time we all stopped believing that development and business-driven, people-unfriendly models are an unstoppable force.
They’re not. We have the power in our hands – and right now would be a damn good time to start to use it!