Many who are sympathetic to the premise of the "Occupy" message have lost patience with the occupiers and want to take the city's Centennial Square back from what most see now as a squat. The square belongs to the rest of us too.
The toilets have been trashed; a tree squatter apparently threw a jar or jug of urine at a city worker and drug use and addiction issues have overtaken any semblance of protest. "Occupiers" are asking the police to enforce the laws, but only those that deal with the people they don't like, forgetting that they too are running afoul of the law.
Impatience is bubbling over in the media and across the community. The city's response has always been measured and respectful of the rights of free speech. "Occupy", however, are clearly not the only inhabitants of the square, and no longer in control of what is happening there. To be fair, it belongs to everyone, not just those who have laid claim and planted their flag. The city now has to apply the laws as they stand, fairly and with equal application to all. That is why the notice to vacate and the application for an injunction as been made. It would be nice to have the legitimate protests find a better means of expression than an implied declaration of independence within the square where no laws with which the occupiers do not agree apply.
We have always made it clear that the square will be needed for community events and expect those with whom we have communicated understand and respect the rights of others. Their choice now is to demonstrate that respect and can expect that the police and the courts will follow through with their respective authorities, to apply the laws that exist to ensure that the rights of broader public access to the public realm are supported in principle and in practice.
A few other issues are showing up at the doorstep, including a few comments on the bridge. Most are supportive and understand that it is a significant and necessary project to ensure that we have a functional, safe and durable transportation system. More still want it to be more supportive of alternatives like cycling and walking and can hardly wait for the new project to begin.
Our work at council, and mine in particular, will be to watch both the budget and the details of planning and design that ensure a calm traffic environment and the preservation of much needed greenspace are incorporated into the project. Both objectives have been a theme in Vic West where many residents feel a sense of ownership over the bridge and the approaches. It is close to home for them, but the bridge will also need to serve the rest of the community and most pointedly the users of the bridge. Many of them will be the growing numbers of people, who choose cycling or walking for transportation.
Many concerns have been expressed about details of access and connectivity of cycling and walking facilities. My attention on those issues has always been pointed and focused and, notwithstanding the skepticism of some commentators, the completion of a more expansive trail piece on the bridge, on-road bike lanes, and the added traffic that can be expected from the E&N trail can be expected to noticeably increase cycling and walking on the bridge.
A few comments have been levelled at the city's finances, which are easily available and truth be told in good shape. Parks and recreation budgets are well funded and the evidence is clearly on the ground. Check out Fisherman's Wharf Park, Cridge Park, a new tot lot in Burnside and a bike skills park alongside Cecilia Ravine to get a sense of what has so far been accomplished during our last term. There are no disappearing budgets in community centres and the investments in Pandora are as likely to be recovered, and then some, by the associated lifts in property values and assessments that will come with the rescue of the green.
Safe routes to school is an issue in any neighbourhood with children and schools. The ongoing investments in traffic calming and pedestrian safety is something I expect to carry beyond current successes and apply to underserved neighbourhoods. Kids and families across the city need a safe and appealing environment to support walking and cycling to school. I plan on working with interested residents to audit neighbourhoods and school communities to help shape ideas that can give somefocus and detail to our ongoing work on pedestrian and cycling plans unfolding across Victoria.