What have we learnt?

What have we learnt?
Simon Harvey

We can ask this question of ourselves – individually, personally. We can ask the question of (or about) our workplace (or employer). We can also ask it about our governments – local, state and federal.

Perhaps it is little early to be totally clear and categorical about lessons learnt, but I do believe it’s important to ask and answer the question – before too long – so that the lessons don’t dissipate into the never-never.

COVID has “thrown the cat among the pigeons”; if our health, finances, or family life and relationships have suffered, it’s been very challenging, and for many of us it continues to be! As chairperson of the Kensington Association, I want to ask the question about our local government – the City of Melbourne (CoM). As residents of the CoM we have unique connections, because we have the CBD under our local government umbrella. We are all (more or less) aware of the very challenging scenario that presents itself to our councillors. They have been thrown the task of bringing life and prosperity back to the city centre; we wish them well. How about the management, support and services provided to other precincts, like Kensington? Is there evidence of lessons learnt?

I think the signs are very good! I invite readers to access Participate Melbourne where you will immediately notice a particular focus on Kensington – “Participate Kensington”. You will find different ways to participate and, “help … make Kensington the best it can be and shape the development of our neighbourhood plan ...” You need to respond before December 22!

It continues … “we want to hear what you learned during lockdown, what you love about Kensington and your priorities, aspirations and wishes for this unique part of our city.”

I really like this. We often feel – us minions – that we are being told what is good for us. This is the CoM’s community and city services reaching out to us, displaying good community development principles, and – as a parallel community development document says –  “… activating communities to lead their own change”.

When we read such words, the cynics among us (no we’re not, just healthy sceptics!) say “nice words!”. But, no … whoa back, hold on a minute! … the CoM is putting money behind their rhetoric. Up to now there have been four “Community Engagement Partners” covering the whole CoM area. For example, Melanie Del Monaco has been covering three different neighbourhoods – Kensington being one of them. She is now the community engagement person exclusively for Kensington. One gets the sense that someone has learnt something more about the importance of “community”. The community development vision reads:

“To enable a just, inclusive and sustainable society where communities are empowered to engage, participate and shape their own city.” Furthermore, the following questions are posed to help consolidate that vision …

How do we build a deeper understanding of community needs and strengths and priorities?

How do we activate communities to lead their own change?

How do we ensure the participation of diverse voices, views and people?

How do we create safe spaces for community to connect and get support when needed?

Excellent stuff! Back in August (North West City News, issue 07), in writing about adaptation following COVID, I opined that – “The future for local communities is fascinating to reflect on [following COVID]. If there is a trend for people to be more confined and connected to activities in their communities … then that is a healthy trend”. The “healthy trend” I am thinking about is where a community evolves to foster a sense of belonging and safety, and also to provide increasingly diverse local employment opportunities. We do very well with our eating and drinking places, and Kenso village has some diverse shopfronts, but there is much more that we can do. What about art and cultural precincts, for example – places and activity centres that connect us to our history, our indigenous peoples, and activates our creative instincts?

We know Kensington is a diverse community, we know it will change and diversify more; The Macaulay Structure Plan has more or less ensured that will happen. Melanie has an exciting job ahead of her, she has already forged connections with groups such as the Kensington Neighbourhood House, the Vennie, Unison housing, Rotary, Transition Town Kensington and the Kensington Association. Having Kensington as the focus of her attention will make a big difference for us and for her … but … yes there is a but … the second of the previous dot points is critical. As Kensington grows and further diversifies, the direction, priorities and vigour must come from us. Melanie (and other community leaders) can facilitate, but we must respond. The “lessons learnt” need consolidation •

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