From the day I started professionally dabbling in community development, I have derived great satisfaction in identifying common ground between seemingly disparate groups and agencies, from which formal partnerships may emerge. Professional life is so much more enjoyable when you can work across different realms and locate a common denominator that not only yields mutual benefits, but leads to better community outcomes.

Once or twice others have referred to this capacity as a “skill”. I am a little embarrassed by that tag. For me it is just brokerage: the end product of having a curious mind and a “what if?” approach. Talk to people, ask questions, wonder out aloud and it is amazing what can emerge.  Skill or otherwise, both the process and the end product can be enormously fulfilling.

Now….a cautionary word for the novice community broker: a preparedness to pursue these thin threads and eventually weave them into strong community fibre can bring process headaches. “Left brain” thinkers struggle to visualize the world as Right brain thinkers do, and vice-versa. However, through persistence comes reward!

I am fortunate that within My Neighbourhood’s contractual engagement with Mirvac Master-planned Communities, I am afforded the opportunity to pursue threads and weave them into partnerships that fit the aims of the project.

Building a community partnership forged through lateral thinking that assumes “point of difference” status and provides a project marketing advantage, represents a bridge between authentic  community development and commerciality. It becomes a shared language for those parts of the project team that sometimes struggle for mutual understanding. Case in point is how one curious conversation with the local RSL at the Woodlea project in Melbourne’s west led to a relationship of substance, that has spawned the construction of a wonderful Walk of Honour and a unique peak-hours shuttle bus service provided by the RSL for local residents. The relationship with the RSL now represents a key project marketing component and is mutually valued. Similarly, at Mirvac’s Smiths Lane project in Melbourne’s south-east, a new partnership that talks directly to the green aspirations of the project has been given life:

I consulted to the Nursery and Garden industry of Victoria for a short while and made a mental note of the NGIV’s aspiration to be better connected – and potentially more influential in the creation of new, greener places – with the residential development industry. Five years after that brief NGIV engagement, Mirvac’s aspiration to create places that exceed industry quality of life benchmarks resonated with me as thoroughly aligned with that NGIV vision. Internal dialogue around the theme followed. “Green” sits at the heart of the wellness narrative, so a thread was pursued with both parties around green amenity andwellness, founded on mutual aspiration to create of places that maximise positive health outcomes. Partnership 101, born from lateral “what if” thinking and an appetite for brokerage.

Time will tell how this pans out in the long term. To my knowledge, this collaboration is the first of its kind within an Australian context and the devil will no doubt be in the detail. Many moving parts impact the delivery of preferred partnership outcomes; both within and external to the partners. However, the opportunity to weave the green narrative into the project’s community development strategy and to ingrain notions of ”thinking green” within young and enthusiastic student minds at the soon to be constructed school, makes for stimulating times ahead. To be able to explore plant species resilience and tree canopy strategies to yield sustainable cooler streets overlaps with the amenity hopes of young families. Smith’s Lane edible front garden packages also represent a domestic gardening playpen with the power to further embed attitudinal change, from which both parties may benefit commercially and reputationally.

Professionally there is great joy in contributing to the creation of this partnership that may spawn a green suburb benchmark that is widely lauded and championed for future urban communities. So, amidst the inevitable churn and challenge of work life, there are indeed moments of reflection about just how lucky I am to be working in this field.

Community development intersects with so many other disciplines. The true value of a community development investment is realized when the CD resource is empowered to thinking laterally, adopt a brokerage mentality and locate those tiny threads that can be woven into a gown of gold.

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