Oasis in the City – Update

OitCity#5

 

It is always difficult to introduce new ideas that necessarily involve creating new structures across existing organisations. However, conversations I have had with various people about the idea of an Oasis in the City, building on Oasis at Flinders, have been positive and have contributed to sharpening up the proposal.

Here’s the latest version: Oasis in the City #5

It probably needs a neutral, secular base to allow inclusion of all.
By ‘secular’ I mean that no one organisation, religious or non-religious, be privileged over another. At the founding of the State of South Australia, the idea of a separation of church and state in the City of Churches was meant to prevent such assumptions of entitlement or privilege. I believe that ideal is an achievement worth promoting.
For us, one implication is that the melting pot of diversity inherent in the concept of bringing transient visitors together could contribute to our understanding and practice of fostering inclusion in our pluralist society. For the visitors, the experience of being valued as guests in Adelaide, deepens respect and promotes mutual reflection on various situations ‘back home’.
Clearly, local contributors to the project would need to have a passion for inter-cultural and inter-religious harmony.

The core of the idea is open face-to-face interpersonal interaction.
Finding a suitable space to encourage this is an important first step. A centre is important as a focus, but is not the main object of the project, which is to bring transient people together in a non-commercial, open and ‘personalised’ environment. Empty spaces in the city already exist, but human interaction in them is usually only incidental to their designed purposes – commercial or other transactions. Creating a truly hospitable complex of spaces for interaction between ‘strangers’ is an architectural challenge. The team of architects who designed Oasis at Flinders as purpose-built for non-commercial hospitality have made an excellent contribution in this regard. The environment for an Oasis in the City must serve this primary purpose.

The world is in transition and visitors bring news!
A set of contemporary movements related to a transitioning Australian culture underpins the proposal. These include transitions in organisational practice, understandings of health and well being and adaption to technological innovation, to name a few.
My area of expertise lies in negotiating the interface between the ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’, ‘church and state’, and between differing belief systems. I am interested in the connection between people of different backgrounds and collaboration among differing institutions. Oasis in the City provides a point for informal engagement and a framework to openly explore transition beyond the usual cultural or institutional ‘boxes’.

Creating and Maintaining the Oasis culture
The Adelaide City Council recently published the results of research they commissioned to establish the level of health and well being of city residents. 484 people responded to the PERMA+ survey, measuring PERMA (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) as well as Optimism, Physical activity, Nutrition, and Sleep.

Findings included:
• Adelaide City Council residents scored higher than the global average PERMA
• females scored slightly higher than males
• those who scored higher than the group’s average of 7.2 were aged 65 to 74 years.
• those 18 to 24 years had lower PERMA
• one in five residents had very low overall PERMA (less than 6.0).

The strategy of Oasis at Flinders anticipated some of these findings by bringing students together with senior citizens. We expected cross-generational support to occur. The ‘Volunteer Team’ of mainly retired people not only provided sensitive listening and support to the students, but sustained the caring and sharing ethos of the centre itself; and they gained great satisfaction in being befriended by students from all over the world.

I hope that the Adelaide City Council will take up the idea of an Oasis in the City. I think there is significant congruence with their 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, which is framed around four key themes:

  • SMART – a smart city with a globally connected and opportunity rich economy.
  • GREEN – one of the world’s first carbon neutral cities and an international leader in environmental change.
  • LIVEABLE – a beautiful, diverse city with an enviable lifestyle that is welcoming to people at all stages of life.
  • CREATIVE – a multicultural city with a passion to create authentic and internationally renowned experiences.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to getting this concept off the ground will be the creativity, imagination and flexibility of existing stakeholders currently promoting wellbeing in the city. This concept, by its nature, takes us further than the well being of those in the city – the mobility of transients makes a contribution, through the transformative experience of traditional hospitality, to the world. In the process, it places the City of Adelaide in the forefront of offering a unique complementary experience to international students and international visitors.

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