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Diversity, conflict and the power of story: Community Forum 1 June 2020

Urban planners Andrea Cooke and Imogen Carr presented on the concept of storytelling as a means of  encounter between disparate groups in the community and the experiment of providing a mediated “storytelling as encounter” experience in the Victoria Street North Richmond neighbourhood in April 2018, in partnership with the Yarra Drug and health Forum and the Neighbourhood Justice Centre.

A small story-focused ‘pop up’ was held and aout 20 stories were gathered by the agency and researcher partners at the ‘pop up’, held in a small neighbourhood park over an afternoon. Stories were shared by people living on the street and those using drugs, people living in public housing, traders and residents in the private market (renting and owning). Stories included a portrait or an ‘avatar’ of the storyteller.

The result was a set of large banners which were exhibited at a busy local shopping centre and then at a local service provider’s community arts program. The audiences at the exhibits also represented a wide range of people from the local community and local and regional services.

What was powerful (and potentially very useful for practitioners engaged in planning amongst communities of difference) was ways in which storytelling became a proxy for encounter between the very different communities of the Victoria Street neighbourhood.

The gathering of stories itself provided a physical, and a social/psychological space where people were able to encounter each other in a somewhat mediated way. Reading the stories if others allowed people to get to know more about each other in a way that everyday encounters in shared neighborhood would not. The methodology is promising for improving the contact people have with each other in cities and neighborhoods where there are challenges of diversity, conflict and use of public space.

Background reference “Telling Tales: using stories as a mode of encounter” Dr Andrea Cooke

These restorative justice concepts are currently in use in North Richmond in the Neighborhood Justice Centre led “peacemaking project “

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