Anchors Away: Contested Space and Local Resistance on Australia's Gold Coast

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Bennett, James A

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Green, Stephanie R

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The neoliberal ascendancy has exacerbated social conflict around urban growth in emergent cities, demonstrating how contested space is a signifier of late modernity. Government officials and elected agents with limited funding for public infrastructure and public services may be forced to choose between retaining public open space or divesting public land to property developers able to access global funding streams. The resultant spatially determined risk generates community debate in which local residents choose between promises of economic security or maintaining publicly accessible sites for recreation and the delivery of public services. In such cases, the collective identity of a particular place may be at stake. This thesis, in two components, explores via a case study of Australia’s largest regional city, how contested space gives rise to local resistance in a battle over the development of public space for private gain.
Place is more than lines on a map, buildings and other tangible attributes, it is a multi dimensional process of social spatialization in which ideas, memories and experiences coexist with physical representations generating beliefs and understandings of what a place means or should mean, so that the being of a place, as it were, with ongoing particular geometries of power, is mythological, incorporating imaginative and experiential views and concepts. An exegetical analysis of the Gold Coast, in southern Queensland, applies such an ontological framework to explain the public debate surrounding a narrow, four kilometre beachfront site, known as The Spit, mostly undeveloped public parkland, proposed for a high rise casino resort and a cruise ship terminal. The multi-billion dollar development was marketed as an economic saviour for a mature tourism destination, supported by a pro-development dominant ideology alliance of local government, the local property development industry and the local newspaper. The development plan was reflexively opposed by residents no longer willing to accept that high rise property development catering for tourists was an ideal strategy to sustain the local economy. The local resistance created an identity crisis in which the equilibrium of the Gold Coast collective identity is disturbed.
The theoretical spatial concepts explored critically in the exegesis are exemplified creatively in a narrative journalism inquiry into The Spit development debate, drawing on semi -structured interviews, personal experiences as a long time Gold Coast resident, attendance at public meetings and rallies, examination of local newspaper coverage and reflections on an extensive topological exploration of The Spit, a walking trip. Such an approach provides in-depth elaboration in which place and space become story, providing complementary ways of seeing to enhance engagement and meaning, enriching the contested space discourse of The Spit and in a broader context providing a local iteration of the disruption of the social contract in the first quarter of the new millennium.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Hum, Lang & Soc Sc

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Gold Coast


Contested Space

urban growth

economic security


public services

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