After years laying vacant, the last couple of months have seen a flurry of activity erupt at a derelict block at the Highgate Hill shops on Gladstone Rd. A dedicated team of Right to the City guerrilla gardeners organised a series of working bees to transform what was once a rocky rubbish dump with grass up to the armpits into a new public park. Basking in the shade of a hundred odd year old hoop pine, about 300 hours of work went into making the space a site where residents could have enjoyed picnics, kicked around a ball, or just be.
The local community has been supportive, their friendly smiles and chats giving us the confidence to know that we enjoyed a social mandate for the project. Some locals even lent us tools and gave us hundreds of plants. Energy was building and the community was excited, it had reached the point where people outside of the dedicated core of gardeners were feeling safe and comfortable to use the space. People were taking their children or dogs in to play, or going in to have a tea and revel in being in a space created by and for community without the pressure of having to buy something to be there. An exciting opening day was planned.
The owner however got word, and having seen that the work of cleaning was done, and the exciting work of creating was about to begin, decided to assert the rights of property owners. Despite no building approval having been granted, he took a bob cat to everything so lovingly tended, destroyed the fledgling park, and put big heavy locks on the site. Sensing a community catalysing around space so long left dormant, and the very tangible threat to his unquestioned right to leverage maximum value from the land once stolen from the Jagera people, we saw a startlingly aggressive response. Our plants, our paths, our garden beds were all bulldozed, the whole site reduced to the sort of blank canvas the gardeners would have had we access to the few grand a bulldozer costs. None of the gardeners took it too hard, we all knew this was a possibility and had had too much fun to worry along the way to get too down. The community who had seen the space change however were devastated. Tears were shed.
The opening day didn’t go ahead as planned, but we gathered over 100 signatures asking council to use their powers of compulsory acquisition and guarantee the use of this space for the community. Brisbane Free University gave a fascinating lecture and panel discussion on the politics of parks and space to an eager group of 20 odd sitting in a car park and footpath.
Right now there is considerable energy in the community. People have seen what having a Right to the City would look like in practice and they have also seen how violently the current system shuts down anyone who dares assert such rights.