Dr amanda wise & dr jan ali commonwealth of Australia 2008

Case Study: The Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project

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Case Study: The Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project

Initiative details

Organisations: Darebin City Council

Contact: Dalal Smiley Project Manager Tel: (03) 9665 4415

Email: DSMILEY@mfb.vic.gov.au

Website: http://www.darebin.vic.gov.au/Page/PagePrint.asp?Page_Id=1064

Funding: $50 000 via Living in Harmony Community Grant Scheme

Description of Initiative

The Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project ran in 2002 shortly following the events of September 11th. The Muslim-Australian community in the Cramer Street Mosque (which was built in the mid-1970s) has grown steadily over time. This growth placed heavy demands on community infrastructure and as a result the neighbourhood tensions began to fester. Tensions were particularly focused around local traffic issues and parking problems in the neighbourhood and these were in turn worsened and racialised after the events of September 11.

DS It got exacerbated after September 11th (Yeah) Before people were just putting up with it. And – after September 11th they started to become more vocal and they started as if they were so justified in and that level of tolerance was.. went really down. So what they used to be able to tolerate before they no longer tolerated and they felt like they were.. you know we would get complaints from neighbours about oh look what..they’ve become very suspicious about what’s going on in the mosques, they would call us and say you know we think I don’t know there’s a big meeting in there.. whole lot of..? at the meeting. They were worried about what they they’re going on about. So you know this became a bit.. that level of suspicion was just you know a few.. what’s going on in the mosque. So yeah. So you could say that the timing of the project was yeah it sort of was a good time to take place.

The Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project was developed to curtail the situation and bring peace to the neighbourhood.

Dalal: So relationship, if you like, in the neighbourhood where the mosque is has always been a little bit tense – a little bit of tension there as a result of parking issues.… always kind of you know complaining that on Fridays for the prayer and also during Ramadan people would come and park illegally or block up….

For a number of years the council tried to do things to address the issue but they’ve always looked at just the symptoms of the problems. … the parking so let’s try and do something about the parking, would impose fines or 1 hour parking so the measures they have taken over the years haven’t really worked so what we did and especially after September 11th is say how about introducing a new approach to what’s going on there. … Looking more at the relationships between people and the neighbourhood and the neighbours and the mosque rather than just about the amenities. So we put in a proposal to the Department of Immigration back then under the living in harmony funding and we got money to do the Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project.

The project involved a number of stakeholders including: the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Centrelink, neighbourhood schools, the Uniting and Baptist Churches, and the local TAFE College. The local police were involved, as were local residential representatives, and Darebin City Council as the main coordinating partner.

These stakeholders also constituted the reference group for the project, which met on a regular basis and discussed ways of improving relations in the neighbourhood. The first step this reference group took to curb the tensions building in the neighbourhood was to conduct a survey with the mosque attendees. The survey was designed to profile the community, gauge attitudes, and understand the views of local community members. Based on this survey and in consultation with the reference group the project developed a number of activities:

  • A cultural festival involving food, dress, etc.

  • Preston West Primary School Arts Festival

  • Intercultural Dialogue Seminar

  • Multicultural faith women’s gatherings

  • Multicultural Neighbourhood Festival

  • Omar Bin El Khattab Mosque Open Day

  • Eid El Fitr Community Day

  • Traffic Management around the Mosque.

The Eid El Fitr and Multicultural Neighbourhood festivals included:

  • Cultural and social activities organised by the Migrant Resource Centre

  • Cultural dances

  • Information kiosks from different organisations

  • Displays by the TAFE college for newly arrived students who wrote about what it means to them to be Australian and to be here

  • Groups making presentations

The two festival days were considered a key to the project’s success.

Dalal: The best thing was when Ramadan came we did a lot of work … doing events but also addressing the issue that was of concern to the neighbours. So we did a whole plan around car-parking, monitoring illegal parking, minimising the noise … making sure that young people who were coming to the mosque had something to do like soccer. Ramadan Soccer Club … so that if there are teenagers hanging around because when their parents are in the mosque they didn’t want to be there for the whole time … The Police ran a program for them where they would play soccer and we had a Ramadan Cup which is still ongoing like it’s now in its third year. … the Police had a team and we had a Sudanese team and an Iraqi team and they all played soccer.

The Traffic Management strategies included:

  • Signage to inform visitors to the Mosque to park legally, keep noise levels down, and respect the neighbours’ comfort

  • Park Ave Closure for Eid el Fitr

  • Assistance from local police with traffic directing and surveillance during Mosque peak times

  • Additional parking space arranged with a local school

  • Information dissemination for Mosque attendees

  • Letters to local residents in the project area

  • Feedback and consultation with local residents

Unfortunately Darebin City Council was not co-operative in assisting with this case study as the Council felt that its own internal evaluations of the initiative should be sufficient for us to go on. We spoke with the Cramer Street Mosque and no-one there had heard of the project and were thus not interested in participating in this study. Therefore we were not able to conduct the planned range of interviews and focus group. This case study is thus based on a single interview with the key driver of the project, Ms Dalal Smiley, who has now left employment with Darebin City Council. As the Council’s evaluation was insufficient to draw independent conclusions, what appears below is only a partial account of the project and its successes.

The success of the Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project is in its ability to defuse the tension in the community. The key to this is involving the community itself in creating the solutions. As has been seen above, the Council tried to impose parking fines and limit parking time to only an hour but this failed. Council’s involvement in the steering committee allowed the community to find solutions to its problems. This was a critical aspect of the project’s success.

The following is a summary of some of the successes identified by the organiser as emerging from the Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project success:

  • The Mosque holds a festival every year and has an open day

  • The local school has its annual arts festival regularly and the entire neighbourhood is welcome to participate.

  • The school offers its grounds for parking and consequently easing traffic congestion and curtailing parking problems

  • The Council granted the school a five year parking permit to allow Mosque attendees to use the school grounds for parking and

  • Darebin Interfaith Council emerged out of the Cramer Street Neighbourhood

Project to build better relations between people of different religions and faith backgrounds in the community.

The Council’s internal evaluation found that:

  • The Multicultural Neighbourhood Festival attracts upwards of 1000 people and overall positive evaluation from participants was received by the Council

  • Intercultural Dialogue seminars attracted around 50 people and the feedback was that the seminars did not provide enough opportunity for social interaction and tended to only attract particular types of people; ‘the converted’

  • The Intercultural Women’s Event attracted approximately 60 women and had positive feedback

  • The Preston West Arts Festival attracted upwards of 1000 people and received very positive feedback

  • The Traffic Management Strategies resulted in a marked decrease of fifty per cent for the infringements issued in 2003 as compared to the same period in 2002. During Ramadan, there was an eighty per cent decrease in the number of complaints related to parking and noise by local residents living near the Mosque.

So during the month of Ramadan we made sure that we put strategies in place to make the neighbourhood safe and minimise the discomfort and the disturbance to the neighbours. We put big signs for people attending the mosque to ask them to maintain you know, to be quiet and be mindful of the neighbours.

then we went into Ramadan and so all the neighbours received information about what strategies being put in place to make the month of Ramadan successful for everyone and the school, what they did, was offer their ground for parking. Parking was a big issue … not enough parking so rather than people parking in the street, … sometimes they used to park in people’s driveways and things like that and so by opening up the parking, additional parking spaces it did help a lot. … our parking officers were patrolling the area, the police was patrolling the area, … everyone you know contributing. It really worked.

  • The Mosque Open Day attracted approximately 20 people. Those who did attend provided positive feedback.

we had an open day before Ramadan. We invited all the neighbours to come to the mosque and meet you know the Muslim neighbours, talk about, have information about Ramadan and what it all means, to have some food, and that was really very successful.

  • Eid El Fitr Community Day was a great success and attracted in the order of 5000-6000 people. A vox pop was taken and the feedback was positive.

Dalal: Yeah, no, they’re not into that… neighbours, socialises, have food and enjoy.. they weren’t interested really in the religion stuff but then there was you know I think that’s how things- relationships do actually start and then they got to the point where they were more comfortable in going a little bit deeper about trying to understand the background, the religion, all of that


There was discussion in Council about representing the secular standpoint in these activities.

DS There were a lot of questions about how do you involve people who don’t have a faith, and don’t believe in, you know they’re not necessarily subscribing to any religion.

There was also some suspicion between Muslim and non-Muslim representatives on the

Interfaith Council, which needed to be carefully managed by the Council

DS Yeah it’s working well mind we do detect every now and again some sort of covert, comments you know.. approach some er, you know some er, elaborate like for example they say ‘look are you sure you really going to um,.. you know likely they doubt you that things are going to go well.. especially.. they have certain..? towards Muslims for example and they will voice that but not in front of the whole forum but they will tell me on the side. And the same was from the Muslim community might fear that some of the counterpart Christians might not so you always have to kind of be, reminding them of what the interfaith council is all about, reminding them of the value of - why you want, why this forum is happening so they don’t need to agree with each other but it’s about respect… and that’s.. and that if they do disagree with that they.. it’s a voluntary thing.

A further issue arose at one point where the speaker at the Mosque Open Day was somewhat controversial and Council felt that tighter vetting of speakers needed to occur.

Dalal: One year open day, the mosque invited neighbours from up the street you see and the guest speaker was from overseas, the US I think.. I think he started in his speech,..went a bit too far and said things that offended some of the people at the open day, they were like.. … mind you.. we’re funding the open day event and he said things about the council you know … so we felt that he wasn’t appropriate and the mosque and agreed, they didn’t realise he was going to say that.. …so that was a learning thing for them the following year.. who’s going to be speaking and we did get a proper complaints,

A similar controversy arose relating to some of the literature available at the Mosque Open Day and was similarly noted for future management by Council.

Dalal: one year for example some material that was available for information.. it wasn’t appropriate because it said. Islam [was the only true] religion, the only one that is universal and why other religions are not good enough to be universal. And we brought this to the Sheik’s attention and he agreed it shouldn’t be circulated. So I think.. you’re going to have, sort of a constant work in progress …

Organisational and Sustainability Issues

However, one key challenge is to keep the many facets of the project alive and continuing into the future. Cooperation between the key stakeholders, volunteers, and the larger community is the key to the success of the Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project. To keep this alive is challenging and requires sustained collective effort and solid financial support.

Although a good deal of momentum was present in 2002 and the years immediately following the inception of the project, it has now discontinued as an ongoing named undertaking. The key driver for the project has left employment with Darebin City Council, and those we spoke with at the Mosque knew nothing about it. The project had greatest momentum when it received funds from the Living in Harmony grants program in 2002-3 and it appears that the non-continuing nature of this funding is a key reason why the program how lost its prominence.

However a number of activities continue to this day, but not under the banner of ‘Cramer Street Project’

Eid Festival … you know like the neighbourhood joining the Muslim and celebrating the end of Ramadan (yes) Then so the following year and still what’s been happening now on a regular basis, is the mosque has the festival every year. They have their open day every yeah. That’s maintained. And the school has their festival every – their annual arts festival is ongoing yeah and they involve, or, if you like invite the neighbours and they still offer their grounds for parking every year and we still have an internal mosque relations committee in the council that every year looks at the issues.

From Council’s perspective, their main involvement now is the Darebin Interfaith Council, which continues as a direct outcome of the project.

Main Conclusions

  • The Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project is a community initiative and is a good model. Its key strength is in building the community based on good working relations between key stakeholders in the community and the general community population.

  • As a project it works and continues to be viable only because it has evolved out of community efforts for the community. If the cooperation between key stakeholders and the larger community continues, the Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project has a lot to offer both the local community and broader Australian society.

  • Key success is the decrease in neighbourhood complaints about the Mosque.

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