This is what community democracy sort of almost looks like
One of the "Ideas" boards
Today I had the privilege of attending the Wollongong Community Summit with 200 other members of the Wollongong community. It was a seemingly diverse group. We were charged with the responsibility of helping formulate the vision to be at the heart of Wollongong City Council’s Community Strategic Plan. Many attendees were cynical, believing this to be another WCC tick the box exercise in faux community consultation. However there are a few promising signs that this may be the dawning of a new day for council. The most significant is that for the first time in my memory, council are submitting serious objections to the TRU concept plan for the Tallawarra Lands. This would never have happened in the old regime.
There are a few warnings. Firstly, although appearing diverse, there were only 2 community members from the Dapto area. See the map below. There were none from Cringila, Warrawong, Port Kembla, Primbee or Windang. The far north was also very lightly represented. Sadly there were very few aboriginal people. People with disabilities seemed well represented. All ages were present in good numbers.
Council did commission a survey of school children from the Warrawong area. Interestingly apart from mentioning their love of beaches and the environment, they were very concerned about prostitution in Wentworth Street. Some cynical people suggested that the data collection process may have been shaped in particular directions. Children’s number one priority for Wollongong was – more “nice people”. Hmmmm.
Also, this is one of several summits. Others have been for “Leaders” and “business”. While this event seems to be a genuine effort to engage the community, time will tell how much weight is given in practice to these various perspectives. When there is conflict between goals or strategies, how will these be resolved. Will the “ordinary” resident keep their seat at the table or be pushed aside for the interests of “business” and “leaders”?
I shared tables with a number of groups and encountered the usual problems of dominant personalities hijacking the agenda, not respecting others and completely ignoring the task at hand. Maybe Wollongong really does need more nice people. There were also a lot of passionate, respectful articulate people.
Interestingly in terms of content, there was a significant amount of convergence around key issues. The environment rated very highly. There was a strong push for an end to homelessness and unemployment. People wanted Wollongong to genuinely embrace innovation as a real possibility, not just a slogan.
Details will follow shortly, but I thought I’d share my last table’s consensus vision statement for Wollongong. We can’t show you this woman’s face because its irrelevant – read the sign.