This has been a year in which the Glebe Society has been very active in policy analysis, community engagement and strategy development. The core of what we do is heritage, environment and planning. Support for Heritage at Federal and State government level continues to decline; agencies’ staff and funds are cut, and it would seem that heritage is seen by State politicians as a subset of planning or, worse still, assets to be sold. Our challenge strategically is to enthuse all of Glebe with the broad meaning of heritage and how it binds us together.
Environmentally we have been able to work effectively with the City of Sydney. Our propositions on trees, parkland, gardens and the like caused civil conversations between the city and us and we resolved matters. Sadly, this is not so with the NSW government. For example, we were actively involved with the Bays Precinct Task Force but the community principles and policy recommendations proposed were largely ignored. In planning we maintain a separate but professionally sound relationship with the City of Sydney but the NSW Government demonstrates a wilful refusal to listen. The proposed planning laws are an example of this. They are based on economic sustainability and ignore environmental sustainability. We do not live in an economy. We live in a society. As the laws threaten heritage, proper planning and communities, they threaten Glebe.
The Glebe Society has joined with over 400 other community organisations in the Better Planning Network so community voices can be heard. When the State ignores community advice on its proposed new planning system and council amalgamations we build networks, improve technology and strengthen community influence. This requires a new decentralised approach to community power.
The Glebe Society enters its 45th year recognised by a very senior Local Government Official as “the most influential local community organisation in NSW”. I hear this sort of comment too frequently to believe it is gratuitous praise. We do good work through our policy analysis, professional submissions and rational influence. We have worked long and hard to gain this reputation. We have a proud history. As I write this we have 313 members and another 70 or so who we anticipate will renew shortly. So there are not many of us, but we get things done. My job today is to tell you what we got done in the last year and to enthuse you with what we will get done in the future.
I am not going to reprise the reports from sub-committees; rather I shall pick out themes. The first theme is strategy. During the year we commenced developing The Glebe Society Strategy 2013 to 2019. Among other things we held a strategy day in which we developed ideas for the years leading up to our 50th anniversary. I wrote to all members with a discussion paper of proposals and received feedback. This will now be distilled into a draft strategy which will be publicised in the Bulletin later this year. You will be asked to comment and then the strategy as amended will be implemented.
We do not live in an economy. We live in a society. As the laws threaten heritage, proper planning and communities, they threaten Glebe.
We started our strategy review by looking at the Glebe Society Constitution, for we recognised that if there were significant objects we were not addressing, then the Glebe Society or the Constitution needed to change. The Glebe Society constitutional objects are:
(a) to improve the amenity of Glebe by:
(i) seeking to achieve wide representation from the diverse communities of Glebe;
(ii) providing opportunities for members to express their views on issues affecting Glebe;
(iii) opposing (by lawful means) development detrimental to heritage values or contrary to community interests;
(iv) promoting a better transport system, both public and private, including upgrading facilities for pedestrians and cyclists;
(v) achieving public access, both pedestrian and cycle, to the entire waterfront of Glebe;
(vi) making Glebe a cleaner and healthier environment;
(vii) encouraging the village atmosphere and community spirit in Glebe; and
(viii) arranging social functions and community activities;
(b) to preserve and enhance the natural and architectural character of Glebe, and to encourage sound town planning, architectural and conservation practices; and
(c) to stimulate interest in the history and character of Glebe, and to foster study of and research into the history of Glebe and its environs.
We considered these against likely contextual changes (demographic, social, technological, economic) and determined that the constitution remains sound and that:
- The Glebe Society’s core business of heritage, planning and environment will be under considerable threat from State indifference or opposition to community voice, developer influence and changing demographics. Therefore its strategy must strengthen this core.
- The Glebe Society’s strengthening of its community engagement must increase so that its influence is broader in Glebe and beyond.
- The Glebe Society must strengthen its technology capability and benefit from new technology.
- The Glebe Society is strongest when activist, and must conserve The Glebe Estate and the character of Glebe.
The Glebe Society enters its 44th year recognised by a very senior Local Government Official as “the most influential local community organisation in NSW”
The second theme is policy analysis. Every Glebe Society submission to a minister, CEO or an inquiry is signed off by the President. Typically this requires many hours of subcommittee or project work before the final draft is discussed at Management Committee and a motion agreed. This year these included analysis and correspondence concerning the Bays Precinct Taskforce Report, Environment Planning Act, Environmental Defenders’ Office, Glebe Community Development Project, Glebe Island Development, Glebe Island Bridge retention, placing Glebe Island Bridge on the Heritage Register, Harold Park Tramsheds, Heritage Fleet, response to Infrastructure NSW Report, Local Government Intervention Bill, NSW Long Term Transport Plan, Planning Green Paper, Planning White Paper, Maintenance of The Glebe Estate, Opposition to the Amalgamation of Councils, Super Yacht Marina and the Trees Policy. During this year I started putting all such correspondence and reports on the website, so members and guests can see our position; debate and publicise it. Not all policy matters produce correspondence nor end on the website.
Let me cite one significant example. It is not unusual for developers to claim, in a general way, that they have community support for their proposals. However, during at least one forum this year this claim was more specific and included the Glebe Society. The Glebe Society made it very plain that it never supports private development that has not been through standard Development and Public Tender processes.
The Glebe Society has subcommittees for Bays and Foreshores, Blue Wrens, Communications, Community Development, Environment, Heritage, Planning, Transport and Traffic. Each of these works with officials and community, within its terms of reference to represent us. I cannot begin to list the presentations, meetings, correspondence and plain hard work each of these does. I can tell you that when you see a planting day in a small bird corridor like Paddy Gray Reserve look out for Blue Wrens. Getting better access to the Glebe Society through its website, Facebook page or via email? Communications was there. As you notice murals, support for Centipede, laneways named, think of community development. New community garden, new street trees, parklands debates – think environment. You get the picture. Each of these sub-committees does a mountain of work for Glebe.
And then there are projects like archives, Bulletin, events, plaques, history and we chair the Coalition of Glebe Groups. We work directly with the broader community of Glebe in matters like NAIDOC week and Tranby, LGA candidates’ forum, New Planning System Community Forum and the nomination of the Glebe Identity, Mark Weisser, for a Lord Mayoral Commendation. In all of these there are members of the Glebe Society and members of the Glebe community, who just get on with it. Because you are civic-minded you work, unnamed. Thank you all.
My final theme is community engagement. What works? What makes communities better? Let me quickly mention some sound research on this. In books such as Making Democracy Work and Bowling Alone Robert Putnam shows empirically that communities which work and build networks together are stronger, healthier, safer, more sustainable and more pleasant. He emphasises that it is the links across community that matter, not the top down controls. For example in Making Democracy Work Putnam shows in a 20 year study that the hierarchical appeals to Government, Church or Mafia made in the South of Italy failed communities. At the same time Emiglia Romagna in mid-Italy achieved effective governance and prosperity through linking across communities and just getting on with it. How can we just get on with it?
Here in Glebe we have a diverse community. Rich, poor, young, old, newcomers, old stayers, eccentrics and, I have been told, a conservative or two. That is why I live here. I like my bread with grain in it. And yet we have some who claim there is a border at St Johns Rd that divides Glebe; the Glebe Society members are gentry. Well as Wittgenstein said, “If there is to be a border to thinking you have to think either side of it so as to define it”. He meant of course that we create such borders with our language. Putnam observed this in his Bowling Alone as he noted the futility of such characterization. No, there is one Glebe. We make it.
We start with us, members of the Glebe Society. The first part of our community with which to engage, is us. Talk to other members and their network. Tell your neighbours what we do. Involve them. Get involved in some small part of the Glebe Society. Make communication two-way. Contribute to strategy. Help improve communications. Recommend projects. Do stuff in your street; build guerrilla gardens, start house name history projects and so on.
Cross link with other groups in Glebe, either as a Glebe Society project or individually. For example I am very proud that the Glebe Society appointed Ambassadors to community agencies this year who advise on grants and form cross links, that we helped initiate Friends of Centipede. If you can, let me know what you are doing but I offer the Jesuit advice, if you are true to core principles, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness, than approval”.
I am also reminded that d’Anton said “Where have they gone? Has anyone seen them? I must catch up to them for I am their leader”.