Thursday, October 18, 2012

The St Kilda thing

It is often observed by people in Port Melbourne that the council is St Kilda centric. After 8 years on Council, I'd like to offer just a few thoughts on this big subject. I am deeply ambivalent about St Kilda - and don't think I'm alone in that.

Great wall of St Kilda, Talbot Reserve
As you would know, my perspective is strongly influenced by the shaping of the present by the past. St Kilda historically was a place of recreation and resort – a seaside place of pleasure and entertainment. Contrast this with Port’s working and industrial history. Compare the flamboyance of the St Kilda kiosk with the utilitarian gatehouses at Station and Princes Pier. Compare the flamboyance of the St Kilda mayoral chair and the simplicity of the Port Melbourne mayoral chair. St Kilda is still a ‘look at me’ kind of place.

The Goldilocks chairs - St Kilda,
Port Melbourne and South Melbourne
What does St Kilda centric really mean?
Although many people think that most of the rates are spent in St Kilda, I'm not sure that is well borne out by an analysis of spending over the last decade.  Nor is it true that basic services are unevenly delivered across Port Phillip.
To me, the difference is not only about the money, but about the time that is spent on St Kilda issues. The St Kilda Triangle has completely dominated the Council agenda over more than 10 years. It will continue to do so as a future Council looks to how to fund the restoration of the Palais, and how the Triangle vision will be delivered. Over the last 4 years, time has been endlessly spent on St Kilda - on endless discussion of the Triangle, the St Kilda Festival, the Vineyard, the Skatepark, and the Great Provider. I was once given the wise advice that you have to be very clear about what you spend your time on because it means you are not spending it on something else. That is what I think has been happening over a long period of time - time spent on St Kilda is time not spent thinking about Port Melbourne and other parts of Port Phillip.
Local member Martin Foley said recently that he could easily just be the member for Port Melbourne because Port has so many issues: the Port Capacity Project, intensification of development, the Fishermens Bend Urban Renewal Area, the Port Melbourne waterfront, and the need for a new school - as well as the complexity of working with the many different agencies that have interests in Port Melbourne.
I feel that the St Kilda councillors just don’t know Port – they don’t have a feel for it - to know what its like to have a neighbour the size of the Port just over the fence.  It’s a phenomenon I heard described elsewhere as ‘look but fail to see’.
St Kilda thinks they have a monopoly on tourism. The fact that Port has hundreds of people coming through Staion Pier every day is not considered to be a phenomenon worthy of particular attention, and the cruise season is not part of their daily reality.
I think of St Kilda as a bit of a princess amongst the 7 wards – always demanding, always seeking attention, always thinking that St Kilda issues should have priority.
At the same time, there is so much to admire and enjoy about St Kilda – its fabulous history and creativity, and its immense contribution in social services. Someone said to me the other day that ‘you can breathe in St Kilda – rich or poor, whatever your issues – there is a place for you in St Kilda.’ We in Port could learn from that.
But there is a blind spot – they think St Kilda is the City of Port Phillip. They do not know Port Melbourne.

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