Creative thinking is the key

March 2015

By Bevan Lynch

Creative Thinking

There has been plenty of discussion about a city’s liveability, but what does it actually mean?

At its most basic, a city is liveable if people find it is easy to move around and connect with others, either physically or digitally.

But with more and more people wanting to live, work and play close to the city, Brisbane will need to work hard to maintain its liveability.

Brisbane has been successful in branding itself as Australia’s New World City, but the next challenge is to have the South East Queensland capital regarded as the most liveable city in the world – a high aspiration but definitely achievable.

Key issues include delivering community facilities to match the demands of growth, improving cross-river links and designing buildings and infrastructure that reflect the city’s subtropical climate.

Movement and connectivity relate to how people move into a space equitably (regardless of their age or physical abilities), and how they connect with each other to socialise so that nobody feels left out. A key issue related to this is public safety. If people feel safe and comfortable, they are more likely to interact and participate.

This means we need to create a public realm that makes people feel safe – public spaces which are activated by both public and private uses that provide the social and built form that assist in creating this liveable environment.

We need to cater for all Brisbane residents, including the elderly and the external students living and studying here.

It would be ideal for our ageing residents to continue to live within the same neighbourhood so they can still access their established social networks. They need to have the option of moving from a large Queenslander that needs a lot of upkeep, to a smaller new townhouse or apartment in the same area. Brisbane’s new City Plan will allow construction of just such a housing option in proximity to established small neighbourhood centres (centres over 2000sqm).

Overseas and interstate students also often encounter housing difficulties. Many co-share, and that can bring problems in communities, especially when you have six or more in a traditional family residence. The rent for many apartments is also often too expensive, so affordability needs to be addressed.

Some companies are now building five or six-dorm rooms with one common living area that can be rented out at an affordable price. This is an example of something that has been design-led for a specific group and addresses the specific issues that come with that accommodation type.

Currently there are about 75,000 international student enrolments in Brisbane with an estimated revenue generation of $3.77 billion, making international education the city’s biggest export market, creating more than 20,000 jobs in Brisbane.

International education is set to create more jobs and boost the city’s economy following Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s announcement of a subsidy to create purpose-built and centrally located accommodation for students.

The Lord Mayor said he was introducing a temporary three-year reduction in council’s adopted infrastructure charges for student accommodation developments within a 4km radius of the Brisbane GPO.

The plan is for the Brisbane of the future to not look vastly different to the way it looks now. In fact, 93 per cent of the city should remain relatively unchanged, retaining our treasured timber and tin suburbs and building upon our open spaces.

But there will be growth not only in the Brisbane CBD, Fortitude Valley and South Brisbane, but also within the transport hubs of Indooroopilly, Mt Gravatt, Chermside and Carindale, and also within the smaller transport nodes and along the transport corridors that connect them. The much-criticised transport tunnels are already delivering their value in reducing congestion on existing road networks.

One thing Brisbane does need is more physical connectivity – in particular pedestrian and cycle bridges. There is opportunity to consider construction of pedestrian and cycle bridges to connect Toowong to Bulimba and include links from West End, Kangaroo Point and Newstead. They will have less impact on the neighbourhoods they connect, as these bridges won’t have to carry heavy transport. New technology will allow us to have lightweight, elegant bridges that span the river, with a minimum of structure that impede the river’s flow during floods.

Both banks of the river from Portside to the University of Queensland present opportunities for sensitive low-key development that add to the city’s social and cultural infrastructure. For example, the river area from the Story Bridge to the Go Between Bridge is a great open urban space that we are yet to make the most of. There is opportunity for significantly greater activation with the introduction of public moorings, private moorings, water taxis and increased public use of both the river and its surrounds.

High-end developments can still exist without denying public usage. For instance, Teneriffe does this really well with apartments sitting side-by-side with public walkways.

In terms of buildings, the Brisbane of the future will continue to reach to the skies, with building heights in the CBD stretching towards 300m, which equates to 100 residential or 80 office storeys.

The future built form of Brisbane will however increasingly reflect the subtropical climate in which we are fortunate to live. Our unique architecture has already been acknowledged by international experts such as Canadian urban planner Gordon Price. With encouragement from planning provisions within the new City Plan, Brisbane will continue to match its growth with high-quality urban design outcomes that help to re-enforce its liveability as we strive for global recognition as the world’s most liveable city.

Bevan Lynch is the founding principal of ML Design, a multi-disciplinary design practice providing services in architecture, master planning, urban design and interior design. He is also the chair of the BCC Urban Futures Brisbane Board.

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