In Jesse Adams Stein’s introductory scoping for the upcoming Place Blogging panel at The Right to the City Symposium, she traces the hyperlocal nature of place blogging. Her questions warrant preliminary attention prior to the event to begin reflecting on my own practice/s of blogging. In riding the warp and weft of place writing and writing place, this project is not specifically or purposefully a place blogging exercise. However, I am interested in exploring how and if the practice of blogging can enhance my engagement with this outer suburban place, to actually find in it my own sense of place. I also use this blog, sometimes, to make a claim for a better deal for outer suburbs in this city. I sit in community meetings where I am at odds with the salute of fist waving, the ‘general consensus’ or the ‘noisy majority’ who make claims for things to stay the same, often under the guise of protecting ‘our way of life’.
In 1988, I worked on a project called Research Action for Population Urban Action (RAP-UP), a DIY campaign project developed through communication and cultural interventions to coalesce a community based response to uncontrolled development and gentrification in the inner city suburbs of Woolloongabba, South Brisbane, Highgate Hill, Dutton Park and West End resulting from redevelopment of the Expo 88 site. In particular, this process focused on the production and distribution of newsletters, letters, posters, stickers, meetings and pamphlets. Public meetings featured the likes of Jack Mundey (Green Bans) and Sue Clifford (Common Ground), speakers who inspired and fired the community to creatively assert their identities and sense of place. Sue’s presentation unleashed a wave of social mapping and place celebrating, while Jack reminded us what a city and a community can gain through development control, conservation and collaboration. An exhibition featured works by local artists and activists and community stalls engaged children (and adults) in imaging their ideal place. Recently, Places Journal published Mimi Zieger’s second installment of ‘The Interventionists Toolkit’ in which she discussed the use and impact of independent publications like posters, pamphlets and guides in urban intervention or tactical urbanism. In the RAP-UP project, funded through a bequest to the Communist Party of Australia, the project team drew on the activist tradition of independent printing and imagemaking. In 1967, the Communist Party’s Brisbane municipal committee produced a policy platform and vision titled, Making Brisbane Better, as part of its local government campaign. From memory, this slim volume advocated for social justice, access to childcare, public transport and equitable access to housing. Brisbane’s first town plan was developed in the 1960s.
As part of RAP-UP, two ‘reports’ were produced for public distribution – part zine, part journalism and part submission – printed in the small printshop at the Party Rooms in Fortitude Valley, where community radio 4ZZZ now has its studios. RAP-UP, along with other community-based organsing efforts, shared the place blogging ethos that Jesse notes: “watching, witness, monitoring, recording, sometimes celebrating, sometimes protesting – on a very local level”. Our community was under seige – rent hikes, boarding house closures, excessive policing, displacement – and we seized these media as tools or platforms for organising in the community and for claiming our right to the city. Through community consultations and creative engagement processes, a list of demands and development priorities was collated and presented to the government. This included demands for community based planning and consultation as well as transparent decision making about development. Groups like West End Community Association continue to advocate for residents and social justice in their community as new development and urban renewal pressures are imposed on the area. Not long after that project, I worked for six months as a Community Development Officer at West End Community House, where I worked on a local broadsheet, a community garden, and a local and oral history group, among other things.
Obviously RAP-UP wasn’t a blogging project, but it could easily have been developed through social media – in the same way that campaigns like RedWatch, Unchain St Kilda and Stop Barangaroo have done. There was a DIY ethos here that was actively trying to write people into the planning and urban development process as well as develop urban planning literacy so that people were better equipped to deal with the challenges facing them. This, I think, is vital for claiming and exercising the right to the city.