The <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Cramer Street
neighbourhood project was undertaken by the City of Darebin as a public relations campaign aimed at tackling racially based public perceptions and attitudes which led to tensions between the neighbours and the Mosque community in the target area.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
neighborhood is home to the first Islamic Mosque in Victoria which was built in 1975. The need for the project was identified as a way of addressing the heightened tensions which occurred from time to time due to a number of reasons including:
- Increased usage of the mosque on Fridays and during Holy days celebrations.
- International events linked to terrorism and which led to backlash towards Arab and Muslim communities.
- Hostile media reporting of domestic events which involve Arab and Muslim communities.
The project involved bringing people together to celebrate events, participate in study circles and seminars, to learn about each other and subsequently reduce their prejudices and misconceptions and develop resilient neighbourly relations.
The concentrated attention on neighbourly relations coupled with communication, information and positive messages and social events led to increased acceptance of the Mosque and its community and lessened the level of complaints by the neighbours towards the Mosque .
The Mosque in Cramer Street was built in 1975 as the first Mosque in Victoria providing a place of worship to Melbournes growing Muslim communities. Over the years, and through increased immigration from Muslim countries, the population of Muslims in the northern region increased four times its original size of 1975.
Muslims attend weekly Friday prayers between 12pm and 2pm . More than 800 people arrive to pray at the Mosque in Cramer Street. The Mosque does not have facilities for off street parking. Mosque attendees can only park in streets surrounding the Mosque. This has led to a number of parking problems including, illegal parking in peoples driveways or cars parked too close to the kerb which made it very difficult for residents to drive out of their driveways.
This increased pressure on parking amenities heightened the tensions amongst residents in the area and worsened existing negative views held by some of the residents against Muslims.
The Darebin City Council had over the years attempted a number of strategies in response to residents complaints. Such strategies attempted to resolve amenity issues and were not concerned with community relations aspects.
Based on previous attempts and increased tensions in the area especially following the tragedy of September 11 and subsequent hostilities towards Muslims in Australia, the idea for the project was developed to conduct a community relations program in the Cramer St Neighbourhood.
A detailed precinct profile indicating the composition of the neighbourhood, age groups, ethnicity and religions was used to inform the communications strategy and type of activities that would attract the various households. In addition to the profile, a random survey of 106 households in the neighborhood was conducted at the start of the project to accurately determine the nature of the problems, and proposed solutions. Another survey of fifty Mosque visitors was also conducted to gain the visitors views of the problem and their proposed solutions.
Further information was sought from previous surveys conducted in the area on the issue of parking around the Mosque. In addition to the surveys, a Project Reference Group (PRG) was set up with representatives from the local school, church, mosque, TAFE College , Victoria Police, a local artist, and relevant Council Officers. The PRG used their collective knowledge to inform the projects direction.
The Project targetted the residents of the Cramer St neighbourhood, the Mosque leaders and visitors and the local and relevant institutions such as the primary school, the TAFE college, the two churches in the area, and the Victoria Police. The neighbourhood consists of over 800 households, about 1750 residents.
Cramer Street residents included a large number of young children aged 0-4 years and a large number of older adults, particularly older women. The precinct population is made up of 40% of people born overseas and 54% of residents who spoke a language other than English.
The local primary school was targeted as a central institution where many of the resident families congregated. The school became an important ally to the Mosque. The local TAFE Colleges support was also important as it provided the amenities which solved many of the logistical problems associated with the management of the area around Mosque peak times. The involvement of the Police was also an essential element to the project which provided legitimacy and credibility to many of the projects actions.
The involvement of the local churches demonstrated the importance of the inter-faith collaboration and cooperation which underpinned the projects philosophy and key messages.
Communication Strategy and Implementation
The Project adopted a number of strategies which suited the project values, goals and appealed to the diversity of the neighborhood in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, family groups, elderly citizens, newly arrived and long established residents.
The establishment of the Project Reference Group brought together representatives of key community leaders in the neighborhood and ensured their support, input and involvement throughout the projects life. A communication strategy was developed in order to advance the projects goals and objectives this was done through:
- A Multicultural Community Festival (30 March 2003). Attended by 1000 people and involved participation by over 15 community organizations. (Appendix A, insert#2)
- An Inter-Faith Seminar (6 September 2003). Attended by 80 people and with presentations from the major faith communities in the neighbourhood. (Appendix A, insert 4)
- A Multi-faith Womens Gathering (14 October 2003) Attended by 90 women from the local neighbourhood from diverse faith backgrounds. (Appendix A, insert # 5)
- Preston West Primary School Arts Festival (17 October 2003). Joining the local primary school annual art and cultural event by broadening its target audience to the neighbourhood residents who did not have any connection with the school. The event was developed to appeal to older residents by adding cultural features such as cultural food celebrations for Italian, Greek andChinese communities and traditional songs and dances from these countries.
- Open House at the Mosque prior to Ramadan (19 October 2003) to provide opportunity to the neighbours to interact and gain information about Ramadan, its importance as a holy month on the annual Muslim calendar and to explain about the rituals followed by Muslims during Ramadan such as fasting from sunrise to sunset and the subsequent activities which occur at the Mosque every day such as the communal eating to break the fast.
- Eid El-Fitr Community Day (29 November 2003) held at the park opposite the Mosque and which incorporated lots of family fun and activities that brought the neighbours together to celebrate with the Muslim community. Over 5000 people attended this event. (Appendix A, insert #7)
- Ward Councilor neighbourhood barbecue (December 2003). Held by the local Councillor with people in the neighbourhood to ascertain their views on the projects progress.
- Cramer St Neighbourhood documentary launch (21 March 2004). Attended by 150 people including Councils Mayor, local politicians and media personnel. (Appendix A, insert # 13, DVD)
Household delivery of:
- Two project brochures at the start and mid way which outlined the project, its aims and objectives and intended activities. The brochure included information on the project in the top five languages other than English spoken in the neighbourhood. (Appendix A, insert #1 A)
- Information fact sheets about religious celebrations relevant to the neighbourhood, which included information on the month of Ramadan and the arrangements put in place by Council to ensure minimum disruption to the neighbourhood. (Appendix A, inserts # 1B, 3, 6, 10)
- Various Fliers and invitations promoting the activities planned.
- A Thank you card to all residents thanking them for their cooperation throughout the month of Ramadan and end of Ramadan festival. ( Appendix A, insert # 12)
- Advertising in the local paper the various events which took place.
- Press releases to the local paper, when the project received the funding, when the project started and for each intended activity including the results of the surveys conducted at the start of the project and upon its completion.
- Radio interviews on ABC program with Jon Faine and SBS Arabic program.
- Articles in the local paper about the project. ( Appendix A, insert # 11)
- Articles about the project in the Councils newsletters. (Appendix A, inserts # 8 and 9)
- Placement of three large display boards around the neighbourhood advertising the two main neighbourhood festivals.
- Placement of permanent signage at the Mosque requesting visitors to maintain quietness and respect neighbours comfort.
- Placement of temporary signs for the temporary parking arrangements.
- The household survey of the neighbourhood indicated that approximately a third of residents accessed the internet, either from home, work or elsewhere. Subsequently information about the project was made available on the City of Darebins Website.
- A traffic management strategy was developed through involvement of Victoria Police, Councils traffic officers, the Mosque volunteers and the TAFE College which minimized disruptions and chaos in the neighborhood, The TAFE College allowed the Mosque to use part of its reserve as additional parking for 150 cars which alleviated the pressure created by lack of parking spaces.
The following results were achieved drawn from surveys and Council collected data :
- Decreased number of complaints by residents by 80%.
- Decreased number of parking fines by 50%.
- A better informed neighbourhood on issues related to the use of Mosque and Islamic practices.
- An overall improvement in how people felt about the existence of the Mosque in their area.
- Over a third of the survey respondents claimed they knew their neighbours better than they did a year ago.
- Almost a third claimed they got along with their neighbours better than they did a year ago.
- Friendliness and respect were rated higher in the second survey as factors which affected neighbours relations indicating an increase in community appreciation for both values.
- A third of respondents noticed the improved signage in the area. Over 10 % noticed increased parking officer attendance in the area.
- A quarter of respondents thought that car parking had improved in the last 12 months.
- 83.9% of respondents indicated they received information about parking arrangements in the area.
- 15% of respondents indicated having attended one or all of the projects activities. This is a significant indicator resulting from a random survey and is statistically an excellent rate of participation.
- 28.3%of the respondents in the second survey gave a rating of 10 out of 10 to how they felt about living in the area as compared to 25.5% of the respondents in the first survey who gave the same rating.
Evaluation of the Project clearly demonstrated that:
It minimized complaints by neighbours
Increased the neighborhoods understanding and appreciation of difference.
Promoted inclusive neighbourhood whereby the Mosque, like the local church and the local school is starting to become accepted as an integral part of the neighbourhood.
Delivered a neighborhood focused program which created opportunities for neighbours to socialize, mix and enjoy cultural, social and educational activities.
Minimized isolation and segregation between neighbours and;
Brought key stakeholders together from the neighbourhood to take leadership and steer the projects process and outcomes and ensure its sustainability. The local primary school will continue to use its annual arts festival as an opportunity to involve the entire neighbourhood. The local Mosque will be holding its Eid El Fitr celebrations in the park opposite the Mosque on yearly basis and will also hold regular open days during the year. The Council has formed an internal Mosque relations working group to continue building strong relations with the Mosque and minimizing causes for potential conflict. The Multi-faith Womens Group committed to hold annual gathering of the local women and to organize on-going activities. The Darebin Council also committed to develop an Interfaith Advisory Network to continue working on building interfaith collaboration in the municipality.