"Our river"? Diversity, values, and community engagement in planning for Dyarubbin, Penrith
Urban waterscapes are valued in diverse ways by different individuals and communities. Despite this diversity, governments continue to primarily reduce these values to recreation and tourism. This is especially contentious in settler colonial states such as Australia, where Indigenous water values are often marginalised in formal planning processes. My research has examined the diverse values and meanings that exist within an area of Dyarubbin (the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment) known as the Bridge-to-Bridge Precinct, in Penrith, New South Wales, and how these values have or have not been incorporated into recent urban planning processes. Using a combined water justice and urban political ecology framework with a focus on power relations between and among community members and planning authorities, I have found that current community engagement processes in urban planning have inherent limitations in their ability to incorporate Indigenous values and diverse conceptions of the river, despite the best efforts of local government. This is due to hierarchical power relations that tend to exclude community members who are not part of organised community groups from collaborating with governments, and which do not align with unceded Indigenous sovereignty. Data used in the research was collected through semi-structured interviews, an online questionnaire and planning documents related to the ‘Our River’ project. This data was collated and analysed using thematic coding. The emergent themes from this analysis include identification of key values employed in the planning process, the role of scale in mediating these processes, and public responses to these values. The way values were constructed in the process of planning and executing urban planning in this case shows that a particular kind of placemaking continues to be foregrounded, based on creating a recreational and tourist destination at the river, that frequently marginalises Indigenous water values.