Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore faced public frustration over the dwindling Oxford Street district on Sunday at the Star Observer LGBTQI Oxford Street Community Forum.

Members of the LGBTQI community gathered at the Burdekin Hotel to discuss the future of Oxford Street, which has been plagued with high vacancies, aggressive vehicle traffic and the absence of a sustainable plan. 

Topics raised included the much-discussed Pride Centre and LGBTQI Museum, and the lack of LGBTQI involvement in the Oxford Street Creative and Cultural Precinct Planning Proposal.

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There were five speakers on the panel, including Qtopia Committee Chair David Polson and CEO of Sydney WorldPride 2023 Kate Wickett. The Lord Mayor and Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich fielded many of the questions..

Challenges Faced By Oxford Street

Moore explained the challenges Oxford Street has faced during her 17-year tenure as Lord Mayor, including the introduction of the clearway, being bookended by two Westfields, the Global Financial Crisis, the lockout laws and COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Speaking on her accomplishments, Moore stated that “in 2006 we repaved the streets, we underground the power lines, we put in smart poles, we put in the banners and the baskets of flowers which have beautified the streets. That’s there now.”

“We’ve been spending money on the street since 2006 but it has had serious challenges that I have just mentioned and I think now we’re reaching a point where I think we can have optimism about the future and I think that’s what we should be focusing on.”

Concerns Over Proposal For Taller Buildings

City of Sydney Mayoral Candidate Yvonne Weldon was in attendance and questioned the Lord Mayor, “Just wanted to know, you’re trying to get your second decade. You’ve had this plan for over a decade, but I heard you speak about flowers and flags but what I’d like to hear is about what is the real action that’s going to take place?”

“Surely council’s original plan for the city of villages will become a city of pillages,” expressed one community member who was concerned that the Cultural and Creative Precinct plan would allow developers to increase building heights and density on the street.

The conversation got heated when another member of the community disrupted Moore while she was speaking. Greenwich stepped in to demand that the man “show some respect.” 

“The Lord Mayor of Sydney has supported our community at times when no elected official was willing to and now she is trying to explain to you the significant investment made to Oxford Street. Please at least show some respect,” he continued. 

‘Community Should Do Some Soul Searching’

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Wickett called for the community to look inward and do some soul searching. Pointing to the lack of diversity in the room she rhetorically asked, “Where are the L’s, where are the B’s, and where are the T’s because I look out here now and I see a lot of white gay men. So where are the L’s and the B’s and the T’s and why have they moved out to Newtown or Marrickville? Why do they not feel comfortable here anymore?”

“I think we’ve got some more systemic questions to answer about where our community is and what our community is now in 2021.”

In response to a question about how the LGBTQI vitality of Oxford Street could be restored, Greenwich said he believes that we should “look to define all sorts of spaces as cultural and community spaces, including sex on premises spaces, saunas, et cetera. Because that is also an important place where our community gathers.” 

Creating An Oxford Street For The Future

Speaking about the importance of community engagement, Greenwich implored, “[We’ve] got to participate in the process. [We’ve] got to make sure we are supporting those venues. [We’ve] got to make sure we are creating an Oxford Street for the future which reflects the entire diversity of the rainbow. This is an exciting time for Oxford Street.”

Wickett gave the audience a glimpse into what Oxford Street was and could be again, reminiscing about her first visit after leaving Adelaide, “I stood in front of the Columbian and for the first time as I looked up Oxford Street, heaving with people, colour, courage, kind people and bears holding hands in hand. And for the first time I felt what it was to feel community.” 

“That was over 20 years ago. It not only changed my life, it saved my life.”

The Oxford Street Cultural and Creative Precinct planning proposal is open for comment until November 5, 2021.

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