Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Park for Sale - but at what cost?

Cairns is growing. There is no real argument there. The speed with which it is expanding is fluctuating and is currently quite a bit slower than what was predicted just a few years a go but it is still on the increase. With growth comes development.

The new highway over-passes and extra lanes on the south side attest to that. When they began, we lost part of a mountain and Forest Gardens lost it's beautiful entrance. Both disheartening initially as they went with great speed and the impact was quite an eye-sore. That said, this is, in the long term, a good idea. The mountain is grassing up and will be green and lush in no time. The better road will increase traffic flow whilst making the drive into or out of the city a much safer one. With the population on the south the heaviest growth area, highways and bypass roads are required.

What is also required is our green space. With so much development and so many areas filling fast with new homes, the small patches of green are desperately needed.

Why? They help create communities. They encourage kids out of the house and onto bikes, kicking a soccer ball or playing on swings. They give room for families to gather, for bbq's to be fired up and for our community to meet.

This is especially important in areas of growth. Most of the residents in these pockets of suburbia are new. Most have never met the neighbours. Our green spaces, whether small or large, give room for a suburb to become a community. Older areas of the south side have some of the largest green spaces. Provided for the residents before open space became unpopular.

Is it necessary to fill these parks with professional sporting clubs and not-for-profit organisations? No. It is a useful thing to do and for many of our parks, an ideal use of the space. For plenty of others however, an informal area, with no goal posts or lighting, is just as important for those who are able to access them.

Last week, Cairns Regional Council voted to look further into the use of 7 such green spaces. Parklands on the southside, in Division 2 and Division 3. Cr Rob Pyne voted against the motion and I completely agree with his vote. This is why.....

In the report given to Councillors there was discussion regarding the parks being 'under-utilised'. In the context given, it was assumed that a park without a sporting club is a useless waste of space. Not-for-profit groups were indicated as another option for the parks in question and 5 were considered useful so long as one of the two options could be achieved.

Little Fretwell for example, was slatted for possible use as a sporting clubs 'home', as long as the club in question could pay for the upkeep of the park, thereby reducing the cost of maintenance. This includes upgrading the car park. Little Fretwell is predominantly used by skateboarders, for BMX riding and for it's small but useful basketball court. What it is really best for is what it is already used for and in an ideal world, those existing facilities would be upgraded and expanded to better fill the space.

Two of the parks however, had a very different report given. One was in White Rock, near the school, and it was suggested in the report that if no group could be found to utilise the park on a permanent basis, it should be offered to White Rock School for development as an expansion of their car park.

At no time should a perfectly good park, situated in the middle of a densely populated suburb, be considered as a future car park. That's just absurd.

The second was Down Park. A park in Edmonton, on the other side of the highway, near B&D Landscaping. This park was previously used as the gathering point for ANZAC Day marches, is currently housing a small hall which is utilised by several groups including the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Choi Kwon Do and is available to hire by members of the community. I have attended many events there, trivia nights, picked up billets from America who were staying a few days and am well aware it is constantly in use.

There are also tennis courts and a large playground on the park area. This park is very large. It is completely surrounded by old Queenslanders (the majority of which are two story) and it is used by residents every single day. They walk their dog's there, they play games, they kick a football and they socialise.

The report states that Council should allocate part of the park for sale to developers for housing. This would apparently then pay to upkeep the remainder and to upgrade it's facilities. On paper, the proposal doesn't sound too bad. Sell off a sliver and fix up what's left. Brilliant!

Here's where I have an issue. If we sell off green space, even a small sliver of it, where will it end? Would this set a precedent? Would our green spaces and parks be looked at for their financial value rather than their value to the community? Or even worse, is it already happening?

If you take a good look at the entire report and the motion itself, it certainly appears that way. In each instance where a park is seen as under-utilised, it's options for use are wrapped up in financial gain for Council. That is not acceptable.

Our parks are for our use, as homes get smaller and blocks of land shrink, they are becoming even more valuable to our community. We need to keep them, but more than that, we need to ensure they are maintained and are well looked after. They are the safe environments for our children to play. They are the spaces where we go to breathe deeply and forget the four walls at home or at work which are at times suffocating. They are the places we go to get exercise, and to give our animals a run.

Do NOT let our parks be sold off! Contact your local Councillor TODAY and let them know it is NOT ok! We are the people who live beside these parks. We are the ones who use them. We are the ones who should dictate what happens to them.