Benjamin Iser is an urban planner with interests in community engagement and public involvement.
1. What do you think are the most difficult challenges, contradictions and opportunities facing suburbs and their communities, or Aspley/your suburb and its community?
One of the major challenges facing urban communities these days is a lack of community engagement from within. Our own daily lives seem to be all too consuming that we find it difficult to engage with one another and to devote time to enhancing the community in which we live. Furthermore, all to often there is no outlet for individuals or groups to discuss and promote issues and ideas about their community.
Urban communities are being reshaped as urban planning policy changes and this is clearly evident in South East Queensland. Chermside has been identified as a primary regional activity centre and as such this is changing the character of the local community and is having a ripple effect on surrounding communities such as Aspley.
The main concern is that our suburbs are being reshaped by outside interest groups with little or no input from the community itself, however given appropriate outlets for community engagement from within, I believe that these challenges can be addressed.
2. How do you think these challenges and contradictions, particularly in relation to cultural and urban sustainability, can be addressed from your perspective or practice as an artist, strategist, designer or activist?
As part of my urban planning studies I had the opportunity to be involved in various discussions relating to public involvement and community development programs.
I have seen a number of successful examples where communities have engaged with one another to discuss and promote issues and ideas relating to their own community. One particular example that comes to mind is the Redlands 2030 Community Plan.
Additionally, technology has given us the opportunity to be well connected to one another, social media has proven this over the past decade. Harnessing this technology to connect communities from within will become an increasingly effective tool in engaging communities, online community discussion forums is just one example.
Creating an outlet for the discussion and promotion of ideas is a vital step in addressing the many challenges our urban communities face.
3. Are you already engaged in addressing those challenges and contradictions in some way? How are you doing that?
As a recent urban planning graduate I have a better understanding of current urban planning issues and how these issues can impact on urban communities. My goal is to be more active within my own urban community and to contribute to the discussion and promotion of ideas that will enhance the community in which I live.
4. What could an ‘enabling suburb’ look and feel like?
I see an ‘enabling suburb’ as one that provides its community with various outlets for community engagement, that identifies and targets all demographics within the community. An ‘enabling suburb’ must provide outlets that empower discussion and promotion of issues and ideas and most importantly, allows for the implementation of ideas from the community which enhance the community as a whole.
5. Aspley, as our case study, is the first Brisbane site to be connected to the National Broadband Network meaning it will be connected to highspeed broadband. How do you think highspeed broadband and online technologies can be used to address challenges or realise opportunities?
I have discussed the opportunities that technology has provided us in the past decade in respect to connectivity to one another. One of the aims of the National Broadband Network is to increase the number of households connected to the Internet.
Being able to connect communities via the Internet allows for wider engagement, as mentioned previously, for many of us our own daily lives seem to be all too consuming that we find it difficult to engage with one another and to devote time to enhancing the community in which we live, I think the internet provides an avenue for those who would find it difficult to engage with their own community otherwise.
6. What is one suggestion you have for harnessing or facilitating the kind of creativity or social innovation required to create ‘enabling suburbs’?
As communities, we must begin to be proactive in engaging with one another if we are to successfully create an ‘enabled suburb’. Stimulating discussion is an important first step and will enable us to better understand our own community.
Embracing technology and creating an online Community Discussion Forum will begin to stimulate discussion, one that can be expanded into other mediums to accommodate those who prefer not to engage online. This is a very inexpensive way for a community to discuss and promote issues and ideas that are relevant to the community and one that allows a community to connect with one another.