Thursday 23 August 2012

Restoring Cairns 'City Place'

This is a story about public space in Cairns. Veteran local activist and anti-war campaigner Bryan Law, sets out the argument.

I’m pretty much a newcomer to Cairns. I moved here in 1993. The city was changing rapidly then. It was in recovery from the setback of the Pilot’s strike, and striving for environmentally “sustainable” economic “growth”. Struggling with the tensions between development and amenity. As you know, we’ve had mixed results.

In 19 years I’ve seen three incarnations of City Place, amid profound change in all our public spaces.

ANZAC Park has gone. Munro Martin Park has been majorly debilitated and deprived of love. The historic Cairns Yacht Club on Wharf Street is gone. The Esplanade has been congested and extended as an entertainment zone. The Casino precinct is up-market sterile.

Inherent to every discussion of public space and heritage in Cairns are the Aborigines whose land we share. When I first came to Cairns as a visitor the best public spaces were in the deep shade of giant figs, with water and toilets and panoramic views of the bay and ranges. Aboriginal people were present (plentiful) as if they had a right. As if the city could include them.

ANZAC Park has gone. Munro Martin Park has been disfigured. City Place is under attack.

In those 19 years I’ve seen the Bama (Aboriginal people) pushed from pillar to post, and the politics of public space in Cairns has regularly worked against them. We are all disfigured by the effects of racism. One reason for former Cairns Mayor Kevin Byrne’s assault against City Place was his burning desire to move along the blackfellas.

Today, City Place is “flat”. Sterile, under-used, just hanging on amid the debris of Cairns CBD. In response, the petit bourgeois of city tobacconists want City Place opened up to traffic.

Mind you they’ve wanted the motor car back in City Place for all the time I’ve been here. Not only does it get rid of the Bama, but it might bring an extra dollar to our door.

Now, these petit bourgeois are the very same people who’ve let the fabric of our CBD deteriorate in the first place. In good times they charged top prices for second-rate service while congratulating themselves for being clever operators. Now, when things get tough, they want taxpayers’ money.

City Place is worth much more than that. When I hang out in City Place, I appreciate being under the sky, away from traffic, in a place that encourages humans to congregate in open air. I like the birds, the bats, the breeze, the balm of tropical paradise. Of course it works best when I bring my own seating… and covered walkways would be nice - they used to be nice until Kevin Byrne tore them down.

Beyond that I like seeing the different peoples of Cairns going about their lives.

When I go to a political or public gathering at City Place, I feel at home. Being surrounded by the living fabric of our town square holds the city in the forefront of our minds – in a way unmatched by any other venue. I like to see speaker’s corner at play.

City Place can be improved alright. It can be majorly improved with very little money, and very little new infrastructure. City Place can be improved as a community project.

City Place does not need a bus-way running through it, or the loss of a stage which works just fine, and which cost more than a million dollars to build just three years ago.

The recent Council and Queensland elections have radically changed the circumstances around City Place. The Cairns Entertainment Precinct is dead. The CBD plan that relied on the CEP is likewise an ex-plan. Queensland Transport will be pruned like every other state agency, and Queensland grant money is much reduced. What will happen next?

I like Gavin King, and wish him well in his Parliamentary career. Can he solve City Place, in association with his Party colleague and Mayor Bob Manning?

If Gavin King is serious about our economy he needs to solve City Place using minimal elegant means. I’m going to have a little go at helping. I’d like to re-create City Place as a pedestrian town square.

As a citizen of Cairns I’d like to work with as many other citizens as possible who are prepared to give a shit about the public spaces of our polis. In particular I want to work in cooperation with Geoff Holland and the CBD group he set up earlier this year.

I want Mayor Bob Manning to keep the promise he made as a candidate speaking at City Place in April this year, which was to design a revitalised City Place using the wealth of local talent and skill.

This is our opportunity to get it right. Restore City Place.


Bryan Law said...

lots of folk want to restore a shady tropical pedestrian City Place. Are we able to make it happen?

Luigi said...

Its cairns city council job to create and maintain entertainments areas, and a encourage avibrant city.
Do we want Cairns to be an international and thriving holiday destination?. Then is now the right time to do something about it and move forward. Cairns infrastructure is getting a bit outdated, as an example our local theatre is very old and uncomfortable especially when you consider their asked admission price....

Thanks. -Mike