CBD from the creek trail south of Meridian. April 6, 2015.

Regarding Dandenong

If You Build It, They Will Come

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I thought I would pop up again after close to two years' absence to note that there's been quite a few articles on the Team 11 bid in recent days.

That's apparently because the FFA board is sitting tomorrow to decide on the fate of the various bids — or not, as they haven't committed to making the decision then.

Winning this bid would almost certainly make for a definitive turn around in the city's prospects. There are at least three existing projects that would almost immediately become viable (I'm thinking here of Spectra, The Lonsdale — again on the market — and Orion Group's development near the station). Those would create further positive feedback due to their key locations and functions. That's without even considering the likely changes a new stadium would trigger south of Cheltenham Road (in a current industrial section), nor the boost to the city's confidence due to being able to lay claim to hosting major national teams. The impact of the latter should not be underestimated.

My understanding from the articles I've read is that the FFA is positive towards the bid, but isn't willing to proceed if there is no confirmed funding for the stadium. Meanwhile, the state government (which is the only serious candidate to fund it), says they may or may not fund it, but won't confirm funding until FFA makes a decision.

This has to be one of the silliest stand-offs between decision makers I've encountered. But it's the state government that's being particularly obtuse. They can flippantly commit $50 billion to a rail loop out of the blue (which notably doesn't pass through Dandenong), but must apply excruciating rectitude and scrutiny to spending 1/300th of that amount to significantly improve the social and economic prospects of this community and the services it can provide to its entire catchment of over 1.7 million people.

Even though I think it's warranted (because Dandenong as a whole does much more for the state than the state does for Dandenong), I'm not asking for special support of the bid from the state government. There are 2 other Victorian bids. The state government could offer to provide funding support to whichever of the current bids is chosen (if any). That would at least make things fair, and if, in that case, the FFA chooses another bid, then I'd be disappointed but satisfied that things were done fairly.

I've tried not to follow the progress of the bid, because I've become too accustomed to significant decisions not going our city's way. The state government made a major commitment to Dandenong back in 2007 (based on earlier efforts from at least 2004). Since then, all three levels of government have delivered good physical infrastructure, but it hasn't been supported by functional change. That is, they all built stuff, but, aside from isolated events, residents can't do anything more today than they could 10 or 20 years ago. Local retail has in fact declined, so there is actually less for residents to do.

The original goal was to restore Dandenong as the capital of the south-east, but no-one has yet provided a compelling reason to view our city as a capital of any sort. While Dandenong South is an industrial boomtown, Dandenong remains almost frozen in time, sitting somewhere between a town-cum-suburb and a city. Yes, it's strange to make that claim when Dandenong has undergone immense change, both in its physical form and in its people. But the efforts of government have yet to unlock new possibilities for its residents. People's educational, employment and self-improvement prospects remain approximately the same; their business and shopping options have declined; and their ability to be entertained and engaged by their city and community in novel and diverse ways has barely shifted.

The reason I began this blog some 7 and a bit years ago was because I believed that Dandenong held a great deal of promise. Growing up here, it gave me everything I could have hoped for and despite my being perpetually and profoundly curious about everything, it managed to regularly satisfy my curious mind. The incredibly diverse culture was no small part of that, and the attitude of ease, trust and acceptance of the different has forever shaped the way I approach life. That diversity did not operate on its own. It was amplified by the nature of the city itself, by the layout and setting of its streets, parks and spaces, and its wonderfully connected and even disconnected districts and neighbourhoods. At its best, Dandenong can be its own little world to explore, filled with a mystery and magic that's hard to describe. But it's not often given the chance to be at its best. Too many people look at this city in black and white. They don't want to, or perhaps can't, appreciate its true spectrum.

Whatever the outcome of the bid this week (or whatever week the outcome becomes known), it's unlikely I will contribute more to this blog in future. That curiosity I spoke of means I have commitments that have and will continue to take priority. But I will always regard it hopefully, as I have for the past 10 years, and I may return to it one day when I have a little more time. And maybe in the meantime, the city will have been given the opportunity to flourish, and to show what it truly can be at its best.