Wellington City Council have just released two fascinating pieces of research related to the Love The Bay process:
The first report from Global Research is a largely quantitative analysis of all the public input received through the Love the Bay process, including the website, drop-in shop and workshops 1-3. At 100 pages it's a long read and is really more of a stock-take of all the information that was gathered. However, it does contain an Executive Summary and a qualitative analysis of all the comments received via the website and drop-in shop (page 90 onwards) that are worth reading.
The second report from Empathy Design is a qualitative 'deep dive' analysis into what people in the community think and feel, and most importantly, why. It focuses on a much smaller group of residents but aims to gather much richer insights. The report is 50 pages long but it isn't dense and it's well worth reading the whole thing.
No matter what you think about the Love the Bay process, or what your position on the cycleway is, both reports are challenging. Empathy Design in particular have not held back on including 'warts and all' quotes from interviewees. Whether you are a member of "the grandmother mafia" or one of "those lycra guys" be prepared to be confronted with points of view from well outside of your own bubble. Of course once you get over the initial discomfort that's a good thing, although there's no doubt that some people will still read the reports and cherry-pick information to confirm their own bias. That would be a shame because there's a lot to learn by keeping an open-mind.
One thing for sure is that any claim that the "Island Bay Community" has a particular view, or that there is a "majority view" within the community, is now stone cold dead. Both reports make it very clear that there is still a very wide range of views within Island Bay, that those views sit along a whole range of intensity, and that those views are in a state of flux. This really shouldn't be news to anyone. In fact it's now over two years since I concluded my blog post Twisted Statistics with this:
"There are two clear lessons here. First, both sides of the debate need to stop making unsubstantiated statements about what they think "the Island Bay community" wants. Second, our city councillors need to keep the feedback that they are receiving from the community in perspective. Just because actively engaged minority groups on both sides are noisy and persistent doesn't justify their views being presented as the view of an entire community. This will be a particularly important lesson for councillors to learn if they are to have any chance of delivering the vision for cycling in the Wellington Cycling Framework without every single project descending into the kind of protracted to-and-fro we have seen in Island Bay"
Having read both these reports I think any individual or group continuing to claim to speak for Island Bay or even the majority of Island Bay is being disingenuous and, quite frankly, dishonest. It also brings into sharp relief just how one-sided and reductive much of the political and media discourse has been up to this point. I've always said that I don't believe the cycleway divided Island Bay, it simply brought to the surface the diversity that already existed. Let's hope we never have to read another press release or media report about what the mythical Island Bay community hive-mind thinks.
The reports actually raise important questions about the very idea of 'community' and whether a single Island Bay community even exists. Wellington City Council acknowledged this in their September 2016 Island Bay Re-engagement paper (page 255 onwards) when they began to talk about the multiple "communities of place and interest" in Island Bay (paragraphs 15-21). I'm also reminded of this from the Stanford Social Innovation Review - What Is Community Anyway?:
"When a funder or evaluator looks at a neighborhood, they often struggle with its boundaries, as if streets can bind social relationships. Often they see a neighborhood as the community, when, in fact, many communities are likely to exist within it, and each likely extends well beyond the physical boundaries of the neighborhood"
A discussion about the contested concept of 'community' and how it impacts on consultation and engagement processes in a representative democracy is probably best kept for another day. However, I do know that Wellington City Council has already learned a huge amount from this process and is still learning. That might yet be one of the biggest positives to emerge from this saga.
My understanding is that both reports are being considered by the team at Tonkin & Taylor as part of the next steps alongside all the other research, evidence, policy, plans and best practice guidelines that have been identified as relevant during the course of the Love the Bay process. Good luck to them!