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17 Group: Affordable Housing and the Right to the City

The next meeting of the 17 Group will take place at 7 pm on Wednesday the 6th of July in unit 6 at 20 Drury St., West End. The speaker will be Brisbane City Councillor for the Gabba Ward, Jonathan Sri, on the topic “Affordable Housing and the Right to the City ”.
Jonathan’s summaries:

Short summary: I will explore the need for a direct action campaign for affordable housing in Brisbane, and suggest how this might connect to broader demands to decentralise control of urban planning.

Longer summary: Like it or not, we are urban creatures. The city shapes almost every aspect of our lives. A long list of rules and regulations dictate how we behave in streets, parks and semi-public spaces, and how those spaces are designed. More rules affect the availability of affordable housing, how much time we have to spend working, and where we source our food and basic necessities. And although we’re not always conscious of it, our social conventions continually mutate to reflect these rules.

Brisbane also has a huge role in shaping the lands and seas around it. Cities are engines of consumption, drawing in phenomenal quantities of natural resources. Some of us direct our energy towards blockading logging trucks or coal mines, but the demand that drives those projects ultimately comes from the businesses, council departments and residents in our own streets and suburbs.

The local rules that define the city have far-reaching impacts. However, Brisbanites have very little control over the people who make these rules, or the police who enforce them.

We are shaped by the city, but most of us have little power to shape it. Most of the people elected to city council are firmly in the pockets of property developers and big business.

When boarding houses and share houses are knocked down to make way for new, more expensive apartments, we get little say in the matter.

Sometimes the new buildings are better. But in Brisbane, most become bastions of individualistic consumption… Intercom security. Six foot fences. No sunlight or soil for gardens. Barely enough room for children or grandparents or flatmates. Few opportunities for incidental encounters and random conversation with neighbours.

The spontaneity, the chaotic beauty of the city, is gradually diluted.

Biographical notes:

Prior to becoming a City Councillor, Councillor Jonathan Sri has been a mediation facilitator, a youth worker, an events organiser, a law clerk, a carer for refugee children, a musician, a writer and a university tutor. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Queensland.

Councillor Sri was born in Brisbane and grew up in West Chermside. He first moved to the inner-city because he wanted to live in a higher-density neighbourhood with a vibrant nightlife and a flourishing music and arts scene. He is actively involved with a wide range of formal and informal community groups and subcultures, and is particularly passionate about standing up for the needs of residents on lower incomes who might sometimes be marginalised by the mainstream political system.

He loves Brisbane’s inner-south side and is determined to see it develop and evolve sustainably, with sufficient infrastructure investment to cope with a rapidly growing population.

Jonathan is a passionate cyclist and a strong public transport advocate, and recognises that we can’t fix traffic and parking problems in Brisbane unless we make public transport cheaper and cycling and walking safer.

Councillor Sri believes our current political system is being undemocratically influenced by large corporations, and that many of the laws and policies which govern society tend to serve the interests of a privileged elite minority rather than ordinary residents.

In his limited spare time, Councillor Sri enjoys playing soccer, chess and performing with various Brisbane-based bands.

“Leon? Leon,” you ask, “how does he respond to the prospect of our discussing what was once scornfully dubbed “gas and water socialism”, as Bolshevists denied the English Fabians like Sidney and Beatrice Webb on the London County Council, and indeed their own Menshevik comrades and rivals, any credibility in bringing about the universally desired utopia?”. When we quizzed him about coming to the meeting he began by reading us this from a weighty historical tome that he had propped before him:

Vladimir Lenin was sharply critical of municipal socialism when the idea was taken up by Russian Mensheviks in the early twentieth century: The bourgeois intelligentsia of the West, like the English Fabians, elevate municipal socialism to a special “trend” precisely because it dreams of social peace, of class conciliation, and seeks to divert public attention away from the fundamental questions of the economic system as a whole, and of the state structure as a whole, to minor questions of local self-government. In the sphere of questions in the first category, the class antagonisms stand out most sharply; that is the sphere which, as we have shown, affects the very foundations of the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Hence it is in that sphere that the philistine, reactionary utopia of bringing about socialism piecemeal is particularly hopeless.”

He then outstared us with his customary truculence. But one of us had with him his beloved copy of theHandbook of Social Theory, edited by George Ritzer and Barry Smart, conveniently opened at page 490 in the article by Peter Beilharz called “Socialism: Modern Hopes, Postmodern Shadows”. He rather slyly read out this passage:

“Only the Webbs’ image of utopia lacked the monomaniacal developmentalism of Trotsky; their hope was rather to service such a minimum of provision as might enable all to flourish in their interdependence… Revolutionaries have enjoyed the prospect of casting Fabianism as mere ‘gas and water socialism’; the problems of provision of health, education and housing nevertheless remain fundamental. Socialism for the Webbs, then, consisted largely in practical terms of reorganizing the wealth that society already possessed. Social problems could be measured, their existence publicized and appropriate reforms enacted to see to their resolution.”

Leon, disturbed, nay mightily angry, kept muttering, in an access of vehement rage, “Monomaniacal! Monomaniacal! Is this Beilharz likely to be at this meeting? Is he? We shall see if his piss and wind is any more pertinent than our gas and water!”

This is as near as we have heard the great man ever come to suggesting his imminent not to say eminent condescending presence. Can his admirers afford to miss this chance? We leave it up to you.

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