Should Councils sell suburban parks to developers?

5 Ulmara Place Keilor Downs - Brimbank Council proposes to sell this park for housing

The Age reported on 28 July that Brimbank City Council is proposing to sell 14 parks in the municipality to developers. It followed up next day with an editorial, No walk in the park for Brimbank, lambasting the planned sale.

Selling parks?! I’d never heard of this proposal before, but I was aghast. I was amazed that any Council would sell off parkland, especially in the west, which we know from Melbourne 2030 is under-provided with regional parks relative to other parts of Melbourne. It didn’t surprise me to see that Brimbank is run by a Government-appointed administrator who presumably would be more inclined to put counting beans ahead of counting heads.

These must be significant parks, I figured, if The Age had written an editorial so quickly on the subject and published it alongside such weighty matters as its opinion on the carbon tax. I therefore read The Age’s editorial with great interest so I could see the issues laid out objectively and analysed dispassionately. I wanted to know which parks they were and what they’re like. I wanted to know what on earth Council could be thinking.

I have to say I was greatly disappointed. The editorial doesn’t make much effort to explain both sides of the story or lay out the ‘facts’. It notes Council says it will spend the proceeds to buy or improve more appropriate open spaces, yet it condemns Council’s position outright as selling “to developers in an apparent revenue raising exercise”. It’s made up largely of homilies like “public space belongs to the community”, “good quality public spaces are essential to build civic life and neighbourhood resilience”, “parks are part of the social glue of any suburb”, and so on.

The editorial even brings the spirit of Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Manhattan’s Central Park, to Keilor Downs. Olmstead, it argues, was “part of a movement in the 19th century that argued for parks and public recreation spaces as a means of overcoming isolation and suspicion”. Danish architect Jan Gehl’s claim that “as societies become more privatised with private homes, cars, computers and offices, the public component of our lives is disappearing” is also cited in support of the case.

This combination of blatant one-sidedness and over-reaching hyperbole put me on my guard. Of course it’s true parks are generally a good thing. And of course residents will generally be passionately opposed to losing something they’ve already got. But disposing of open space isn’t necessarily and automatically a bad thing – it depends on the circumstances. Read the rest of this entry »