Our second year of the trial has wrapped up, and council officers are currently working through the logistics of delivering what people voted for. All up, 53 eligible projects were suggested by residents, with 14 of them receiving enough votes to get funded out of the 2017 budget for footpath and park upgrades. The list of successful projects is below. You can find the full list of project suggestions and residents’ comments on the community voting website via this link.
2017 Resident Involvement
Resident participation increased significantly for this second year of the trial. We held eight face-to-face workshops around the ward to hear ideas from residents and to explain how the process works. Some of these were well attended with as many as forty participants, while other workshop sessions only attracted four or five residents. Unsurprisingly, the lowest turnouts were the daytime weekday workshops. We ran a couple of these to cater for people who work on weekends and weeknights. In light of these low turnouts, we might not run any weekday workshops in future years.
The best turnouts were to the workshops that we ran in partnership with other community organisations. We held a great workshop in partnership with West End Community House’s weekly Thursday morning breakfast, which attracts a diverse range of residents, including quite a few rough sleepers who spoke about the importance of public lockers, toilets that are open late at night, and drinking fountains. We also had a solid turnout to the forum organised in partnership with the Kurilpa Kitchen seniors’ lunch at Kurilpa Hall, where public benches, disability ramps and smooth footpaths were identified as high priorities. The forum we ran at Medley Cafe in partnership with Kangaroo Point Neighbourhood Watch identified a number of issues I’ve been pushing for some time, including the need to complete the riverwalk around to Mowbray Park - unfortunately a big and expensive project like that is beyond the scope of the local footpath and parks budget.
As well as the face-to-face workshops, 798 people registered to use the online system to suggest projects, comment on other residents’ suggestions, and vote for their favourites. We also handed out about 50 printed voting forms to people who didn’t feel comfortable using the website but still wanted to vote. This year, a smaller proportion of residents used the website to discuss and comment on each other’s projects compared to last year. It seems more people were logging on simply to cast their vote rather than to engage in meaningful discussion. This reinforces my concerns that online voting is often a shallower form of consultation and engagement than truly deliberative formats like workshops.
I would like to see more residents participating in both online and face-to-face discussions about local infrastructure needs, but I’m also mindful of how busy residents are, and that it can be difficult to find the time to participate in processes like this community voting trial. If we want to create a more democratic system of local government, we also need to change other aspects of our society so that people have more time in their week to engage in political discussions and civic decision-making processes.
Following is a list of the successful projects, and some of the ongoing challenges we’re now facing in delivering these.
Skatepark and Basketball court
A skatepark and a full-sized basketball court for the western half of the Gabba Ward were popular suggestions in 2016 and 2017. Brisbane has around 30 skate facilities across the city, but unfortunately in the Gabba Ward we currently only have one very small skate bowl at Raymond Park, Kangaroo Point. While there are a couple of public basketball courts in the eastern half of the Gabba Ward, there are none in West End and only one half-court on the south side of Highgate Hill.
Skateparks are expensive to build and require fairly large amounts of public space. With a limited budget and a ward that’s already low on public green space, finding a site for a decent skatepark is proving difficult. When you add tree roots and underground pipes into the equation, it gets even harder. I’ve taken the view that providing skateparks and basketball courts should not come at the expense of existing green spaces which are used for other purposes (I’m interested in residents’ feedback on this approach).
My office has already looked into a range of different locations for a skatepark, including next to the old Boggo Road Gaol, under the Merrivale Rail Bridge viaduct in South Brisbane, and along Riverside Drive near Davies Park. If you have a good idea for a location on council land, please get in contact with our office. Our focus at this stage is on negotiating the handover of State Government land down near the Parmalat site to convert an underused area of bitumen into a skatepark.
We’re also still consulting with council officers about the best site for a full-sized basketball court in 4101. We initially looked at installing a half-court in the southwest corner of Davies Park (just down the slope from the fig trees, but there wasn’t enough room due to the need to avoid damaging tree roots. We’re currently consulting with local Aboriginal Elders about the possibility of putting a full-sized court near Jagera Hall in Musgrave Park, on the site of the old tennis court.
Various Improvements along Riverside Drive in West End
A new bike repair station has now been installed on Riverside Drive near the end of Victoria Street.
The popular (and now dusty) dog park on Riverside Drive near Hocking Street will be getting a minor upgrade, which will include an expansion to provide separate sections for small and large dogs. Our office is currently negotiating these upgrades with the council. We expect that the works will be completed within the next six months. A new section of concrete footpath will be installed along Riverside Drive (from just north of Jane St) to improve connectivity between existing footpaths leading to the dog park.
Faversham Street Park
Tucked away at the southern end of Faversham Street in Woolloongabba is a tiny but well-used park. The park is a popular gathering space for local residents, who suggested the installation of a new BBQ and a water fountain. This project attracted 67 votes in total, which was enough to get it over the line. Council’s asset services team are currently working through the challenges of getting water and power connected to this little park.
Storage lockers for rough sleepers
At our workshop in partnership with West End Community House, several residents suggested the installation of free public lockers which could be used by homeless residents while they’re waiting to get into affordable housing. Despite this proposal attracting a significant amount of resident support, the BCC administration is now opposing the installation of lockers on council land. We’re currently negotiating with council staff and other local community organisations to see if we can find another way to deliver this project.
List of Successful Proposals
1. Storage Lockers for Rough Sleepers, South Brisbane
2. Drinking Fountain outside Kurilpa Library, West End
3. Gardens and bench seats outside Tangara Retirement Village, West End
4. Faversham St Park BBQ and Drinking Fountain, Woolloongabba
5. Bike Repair Station, South Brisbane
6. Drinking Fountain cnr Gladstone & Vulture*
7. Seat next to playground, Rotary Park, Woolloongabba
8. Additional Picnic table in Mowbray Park, East Brisbane
9. Park Bench on Boundary St, West End
10. Skatepark/Multi-purpose facility (location unconfirmed)
11. New footpath along Riverside Drive, north of Jane St, West End
12. Drinking Fountain cnr Cordelia & Peel St*
13. Expansion of Riverside Drive Dog Park, West End
14. Park Bench and Landscaping, cnr Besant & Vulture St, West End
*As explained further down, we have learned that some of the drinking fountain suggestions will be far more expensive than expected due to the cost of connecting underground water pipes, and so these projects will not go ahead even though they attracted enough votes.
Out of Scope Projects
Around 20 project suggestions that came through the website this year were out of scope for the local footpaths and parks budget. We’ve also left the out of scope projects from the previous year in this list so residents can see and understand what this budget can and can’t be spent on.
Most of these suggestions were out of scope because they proposed projects on land that wasn’t a council park or footpath (some were on roads, others were on Stage Government land). Many residents obviously want to see more investment in pedestrian crossings and traffic calming, and it’s unfortunate that Brisbane City Council doesn’t allow residents more input into the budget for local road improvements. This connects to the broader problem of BCC spending too much money on major road-widening projects, and not enough on smaller targeted improvements that encourage active and public transport.
Although these projects couldn’t be funded through this community voting process, it was still very helpful for me to receive these suggestions via the website, as the resident suggestions serve as useful evidence when I’m lobbying and advocating for these projects through other channels.
Critical Reflections on the Trial
I hope to produce a more detailed reflection about the pros and cons of this kind of community voting process in the near future. One interesting outcome from this year’s process was that many more projects were suggested for West End than for suburbs like Woolloongabba, Kangaroo Point and East Brisbane. Part of the reason for this is that more residents participated in the West End workshops than the ones in suburbs like Dutton Park and East Brisbane. There are also many more people living in West End, so naturally the voting might be expected to skew that way. This contrasted strongly with last year’s community voting, where dozens of residents in Woolloongabba and East Brisbane participated specifically so they could vote for dog park lights in Woolloongabba Rotary Park.
However after a number of conversations with residents - both those who participated and those who didn’t - I’ve also realised that most of the parks in Kangaroo Point, East Brisbane, Woolloongabba etc are already reasonably well serviced in terms of playgrounds, park benches etc. The main problem is not a lack of infrastructure within existing parks, but a lack of pedestrian connectivity to get to the parks, and in places like central Woolloongabba, an overall shortage of public green space.
Since voting closed this year, we’ve found that the initial cost estimates council provided us for some project suggestions were far lower than the actual costs are turning out to be. In a few cases, we’ve learned that drinking fountains which we thought would only cost a couple of thousand dollars would actually cost as much as $15 000 each due to the difficulty of connecting underground water pipes in heavily built-up areas. In these situations, I’ve made a unilateral decision not to proceed with some of these smaller projects, because I don’t believe residents would have voted for a drinking fountain at a particular location if they knew the cost was so high. This highlights the fact that even though the initial stages of the community voting process are quite democratic, I’m still exercising a degree of discretion in terms of how the projects are actually implemented.
Another key concern of our system is that residents are asked to spend a lot of time and energy deciding how to allocate a comparatively small amount of funding while bigger council decisions are made centrally without much resident consultation. This can be likened to saying to residents “The Lord Mayor will decide how to slice up and divide the whole cake. We are just giving you a few crumbs and you have to decide who gets them.”
Many of the most urgent suggestions that residents raised through this process were out of scope for the footpaths and parks budget. Clearly there is a major problem in Brisbane where the provision of new infrastructure isn’t keeping pace with population growth. To read more of my thoughts as to why this is happening, check out this detailed write-up.
After two years of trialling this participatory budgeting process, I’m starting to think about how the system can be further reformed. We want to ensure that more residents are able to participate, while still encouraging a deeper level of engagement and discussion where people hear and learn from each other’s perspectives.
If you have feedback on this year’s trial or would like to make suggestions as to how community voting can be improved in the future, please feel free to get in touch with my office.