So-called “Derelict” Boats near Banfield Park
Yesterday, I led a very successful Jane’s Walk (more information and links here) through Vic West. Almost thirty people (and two dogs) showed up, and we had some excellent conversations at various points along the Galloping Goose Trail.
Despite my prediction that the privatization of public space and the selling of city owned properties would be the most controversial items during our conversations, it was actually the so-called “derelict” boats moored near Banfield Park that inspired the most passionate discussion. The major issue of contention was whether the boats should be allowed to stay as a form of housing or whether they are a dangerous eyesore that should be completely banned from the harbour.
As I see it, there are three major problems with the boats moored there:
- Sewage and other sources of pollution being dumped into the water.
- Violence occurring as people struggle over the use of space.
- The potential for the boats to block access for other uses, like Harbour Ferries, paddlers and rowers.
One participant on the walk made a passionate argument that for these reasons, all boats should be banned from mooring in the the bay long term. She was particularly concerned with the pollution, and expressed fear for herself and daughter when using the park because of the potential for violence.
Another participant pointed out (quite rightly, I think) that many of the boats are providing housing to people who would otherwise be homeless. Rather than simply banning boats from mooring there, there are other ways to solve the major problems listed above.
- A sewage pumping station could be installed somewhere nearby, and all the boats could be required to have on-board holding tanks to prevent run-off into the environment.
- Regular police patrols could help minimize violence, criminal activities and the perception of threatening behaviour.
- Regulations and enforcement could keep channels open to allow access for other users.
These are more subtle and effective ways to deal with the actual problems that come with the boats, than the more heavy-handed suggestion that they simply be banned. Simply banning them would move the problems elsewhere, and would require a huge investment in social housing to prevent increasing homelessness in the area.
Yet another participant also pointed out that social housing isn’t even a solution for all the people living on such boats. Owning a boat provides a certain pride of ownership and the ability to control your own space that many local home-owners ought to understand. It is very difficult (and perhaps impossible) to replicate such intangibles with social housing, which often requires strict regulation to maintain safety and security.
Strictly regulating the boats thus seems like one way to maintain diverse housing stock, create the conditions for an economically inclusive neighbourhood and solve the admittedly important problems that they bring to the area.