Oasis in the City – Update



It is always difficult to introduce new ideas that necessarily involve creating new structures across existing organisations. However, conversations I have had with various people about the idea of an Oasis in the City, building on Oasis at Flinders, have been positive and have contributed to sharpening up the proposal.

Here’s the latest version: Oasis in the City #5

It probably needs a neutral, secular base to allow inclusion of all.
By ‘secular’ I mean that no one organisation, religious or non-religious, be privileged over another. At the founding of the State of South Australia, the idea of a separation of church and state in the City of Churches was meant to prevent such assumptions of entitlement or privilege. I believe that ideal is an achievement worth promoting.
For us, one implication is that the melting pot of diversity inherent in the concept of bringing transient visitors together could contribute to our understanding and practice of fostering inclusion in our pluralist society. For the visitors, the experience of being valued as guests in Adelaide, deepens respect and promotes mutual reflection on various situations ‘back home’.
Clearly, local contributors to the project would need to have a passion for inter-cultural and inter-religious harmony.

The core of the idea is open face-to-face interpersonal interaction.
Finding a suitable space to encourage this is an important first step. A centre is important as a focus, but is not the main object of the project, which is to bring transient people together in a non-commercial, open and ‘personalised’ environment. Empty spaces in the city already exist, but human interaction in them is usually only incidental to their designed purposes – commercial or other transactions. Creating a truly hospitable complex of spaces for interaction between ‘strangers’ is an architectural challenge. The team of architects who designed Oasis at Flinders as purpose-built for non-commercial hospitality have made an excellent contribution in this regard. The environment for an Oasis in the City must serve this primary purpose.

The world is in transition and visitors bring news!
A set of contemporary movements related to a transitioning Australian culture underpins the proposal. These include transitions in organisational practice, understandings of health and well being and adaption to technological innovation, to name a few.
My area of expertise lies in negotiating the interface between the ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’, ‘church and state’, and between differing belief systems. I am interested in the connection between people of different backgrounds and collaboration among differing institutions. Oasis in the City provides a point for informal engagement and a framework to openly explore transition beyond the usual cultural or institutional ‘boxes’.

Creating and Maintaining the Oasis culture
The Adelaide City Council recently published the results of research they commissioned to establish the level of health and well being of city residents. 484 people responded to the PERMA+ survey, measuring PERMA (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) as well as Optimism, Physical activity, Nutrition, and Sleep.

Findings included:
• Adelaide City Council residents scored higher than the global average PERMA
• females scored slightly higher than males
• those who scored higher than the group’s average of 7.2 were aged 65 to 74 years.
• those 18 to 24 years had lower PERMA
• one in five residents had very low overall PERMA (less than 6.0).

The strategy of Oasis at Flinders anticipated some of these findings by bringing students together with senior citizens. We expected cross-generational support to occur. The ‘Volunteer Team’ of mainly retired people not only provided sensitive listening and support to the students, but sustained the caring and sharing ethos of the centre itself; and they gained great satisfaction in being befriended by students from all over the world.

I hope that the Adelaide City Council will take up the idea of an Oasis in the City. I think there is significant congruence with their 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, which is framed around four key themes:

  • SMART – a smart city with a globally connected and opportunity rich economy.
  • GREEN – one of the world’s first carbon neutral cities and an international leader in environmental change.
  • LIVEABLE – a beautiful, diverse city with an enviable lifestyle that is welcoming to people at all stages of life.
  • CREATIVE – a multicultural city with a passion to create authentic and internationally renowned experiences.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to getting this concept off the ground will be the creativity, imagination and flexibility of existing stakeholders currently promoting wellbeing in the city. This concept, by its nature, takes us further than the well being of those in the city – the mobility of transients makes a contribution, through the transformative experience of traditional hospitality, to the world. In the process, it places the City of Adelaide in the forefront of offering a unique complementary experience to international students and international visitors.

One thought on “Oasis in the City – Update

  1. Dear Geoff, It has been a while by I think of you often and sense the support and solidarity of your work giving us all a boost. I am intrigued with your Oasis in the city idea. I am not sure if its sadness or liberation that I feel when I read “It probably needs a neutral, secular base to allow inclusion to all.” I agree.
    I suppose it was with utopia in mind that I sat down this weekend to try to capture a little piece of our work at western sydney uni. campbelltown campus. I hope i might bring you some enjoyment and perhaps the confirming of just how much a catalyst food can be. I am pasting the piece below.

    Wednesday free meals – multifaith centre, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown campus

    Last Wednesday evening there was something of a Mediterranean vibe around the multifaith centre at Campbelltown campus. Paella was on the menu for dinner. As usual there was a vegetarian option and a non-vegetarian option. The vegetarian option relied on sun-dried tomatoes, olives and artichoke hearts as an accompaniment to risotto. The meat version included Spanish chorizo and chicken. Reviews were overall positive – especially after we found the chilli powder (which we always keep on hand) for those who like it hot.

    Since the beginning of the first semester the student campus council and the chaplaincy service have provided students with a weekly free meal based on nutritious ingredients and as much fresh and local produce as possible. Volunteers from among students and staff come together to cook. It has become a regular crew partly because those involved in the cooking have come to anticipate seeing each other. Amidst chopping carrots and onions and washing dishes there is a lot of catching up that goes on and the conversation is often full of laughs.

    Lauren is an exchange student from Germany, Jinru is a doctoral candidate in complimentary medicine and Abigail is working towards her accounting degree. Sonsita and Rose are nursing students. Cheryl, Patricia and Gina make for a strong showing from the campus council and the chaplain brings the groceries, the aprons and usually the recipe.

    It’s an eclectic range of diners each week. Some of the 60-80 students who come to dinner are regulars. 1st year medical school, Anatomy students get out around 5p.m. and some come over, occupy the pillows and floor of the meditation room, and unwind over a bowl of soup or curry or pasta. Commuters who are leaving the campus for a long ride home, stop by and have a bowl on the run. Nursing and midwifery students use the multi-faith space for mentoring from 4-9pm on Wednesdays. They eat while they review assessments and assignments with generous staff volunteers and Lilly, the medical school librarian who mentors students on sources and referencing, among other things, on Wednesday evenings. The campus council sometimes hold their meeting on Wednesday evening and they eat while they discuss business.

    Others come and go from week to week. Many of those will be studying in the library late, or are on a tight budget, or just need/want an easy connection to a sense of community and the opportunity to make some new acquaintances. Several come for the conversational English opportunity that this is.

    And because the meal is served between 5 and 6p.m. and because at this time of the year that’s sun setting time, Islamic students, who make use of the prayer rooms, come and go. Sometimes, as was the case this past Wednesday, the sound of salat (singing the recitation of the evening prayer) emerges from the prayer rooms. It was a high tenor voice this week. The difference and beauty of that sound often stops the conversations for a moment. Then most realize, “oh yes, it’s the evening prayer,” and everyone resumes what they were doing. Side by side the students saying prayer, and students doing assessments, and students chilling out, and students standing in line for their meal, experience the beautiful sense of community that was always the intended purpose of the multi-faith space.

    That sense of harmony amidst diversity can seem hard to pull off in many places around our country and beyond. By default, it is easier to keep things separate. But at the multifaith space last Wednesday, between the aroma of good food and the melodic capacity of the human voice in soulful engagement and the goodwill of a midweek gathering of students, it seemed easy, natural, enriching and full of possibilities.

    all the best to you and the beautiful work that you do.

    Austinmer, NSW

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