Recently I made a comment in a post about rent hikes at Westfield Chermside with the qualification that I had not verified the claim. A report in the local newspaper, Northside Chronicle (2 November 2011), confirms the story stating that one trader was facing a rent increase of $45,000, resulting in total rent of $162,000 per annum plus 2 per cent and annual CPI increases. The increase forced this business, which was borderline profitable in the post GFC context, to close. Say what you will about biting off more than you can chew and obesity (it was a donut seller) but there is an underlying issue of how companies like Westfield exert seemingly feudal control over their assets: let’s be assured that despite their walking program, there’s not much concern about suburban obesity. There’s also issues in how these emerging post-GFC economic conditions have empowered corporations like that to clammer for ever more of the community’s wealth. As the world rumbles about corporate greed and excess, as police use force to break up those protests and the corporate excess and greed continues (with unreasonable claims like paid parking and rent increases, now followed by alienation of free community services like JP services), there’s clearly issues about corporate responsibility and stakeholder value. Incidentally, the Northside Chronicle also reports that 18 out of 19 volunteer JPs offering free services at Westfield Chermside have walked off claiming that the centre questioned their integrity: apparently there’s some kind of mediation underway. The report intimates that concerns about paid parking and revoking of lunch vouchers have catalysed the questioning of integrity.
It just seems like ‘community breaking’ – in the same manner of ‘union breaking’ – by a vicious cycle of consumer(e)scape and shareholder ‘value’ (profit?). It is apparent, just in walking through the locality, that Westfield obstructs local economic development and placemaking in Chermside. Can shareholder value really be created out of the erosion of local economies, place and communities? BTW where is your superannuation invested? Querying ‘license to operate’ as I have mentioned before seems too weak, even bereft. This seems to be the stuff of entropy, as mentioned in my earlier post (scroll to end).
I’d like to say #occupyWestfield but that’s not likely to happen (though let’s not dismiss the possibility altogether). Perhaps we need to think about other ideas about occupation, accountability, hacking and disruption. Galina Tachieva of the New Urban Network recently entreated us to ‘Occupy Sprawl’, with further specific attention to occupying the cul-de-sac. Ienjoyed this idea of occupying bad planning and design to make a point about its awful consequences – occupying the worst designed environments (I can’t go as far as to say that are uninhabitable) is an interestingly playful twist. Colleagues involved in Urgenis presented Brisbane’s Global Sustainability Jam and produced a video about hacking the supermarket. Perhaps social media actions that bring these companies under scrutiny. Those companies control so much land in our localities and centres – they control so much of our imaginations – that we need to watch them and understand how they wield those assets like weapons and create environments that disconnect communities and residents from the social dimensions of place. But then, thinking about the kind of local economy and ecology that has emerged at Sunnybank, there’s a clear possibility for some of those smaller suburban centres to be reinvented, even appropriated and cultivated. Importantly, we need alternatives and we need to listen for them, sense them – like The Peoples Supermarket in London, or the longer term vision pursued by Urgenis’ Hack-mart, or the approaches that BALLE promotes. Something better or more interesting could emerge, be taking shape in our midst, and we may just miss it.