Citywise: Downtown done right
Brisbane is a city with big ambitions. Its city plan, which looks ahead to 2022, aims to transform Queensland’s capital into Australia’s ‘New World City’, which will position it among a set of middleweight cities, such as Vancouver and Vienna, that are using their diverse set of strengths to redefine what it means to be livable. What bigger, global capitals can’t provide, Brisbane can excel at. Affordable, safe and easy to get around, it knows that good cities are focused on creating a good quality of life and, with a booming population expected to double in the next 40 years, now is the time to lay the groundwork. With huge infrastructure investments across the city already well under way, the next 14 pages focus on Brisbane’s city center, and how it’s using a balance of thinking to help the city take a big leap forward.
Brisbane is a city with big ambitions. Its city plan, which looks ahead to 2022, aims to transform Queensland’s capital into Australia’s ‘New World City’, which will position it among a set of middleweight cities, such as Vancouver and Vienna, that are using their diverse set of strengths to redefine what it means to be livable. What bigger, global capitals can’t provide, Brisbane can excel at. Affordable, safe and easy to get around, it knows that good cities are focused on creating a good quality of life and, with a booming population expected to double in the next 40 years, now is the time to lay the groundwork. With huge infrastructure investments across the city already well under way, the next 14 pages focus on Brisbane’s city center, and how it’s using a balance of thinking to help the city take a big leap forward.

Set between stretches of popular sandy coastline, Brisbane is Queensland’s largest city, home to two million people. The city is blessed with a subtropical climate, and massive investments in urban improvements made throughout the 1990s and early 2000s (such as the development of the South Bank precinct and the Gallery of Modern Art) have gone a long way towards making Brisbane a more attractive place to live and work.

But major challenges remain. Brisbane is a sprawling city – a common problem for Australian municipalities. Its roads are congested, its public transit needs bolstering, and, instead of inhabiting its Central Business District (CBD) after working hours, people return to their homes on the city’s outskirts. Knowing what is coming, the City Council is taking action.

In this year’s budget, over AU$400m is being spent on improving roads, adding new bikeways and carving out green space to make Brisbane a more efficient and livable city. This is in addition to continued construction of the Legacy Way, a 5.4 km double-decker tunnel running beneath the CBD and the Brisbane River.

In fact, Brisbane’s CBD is emblematic of the city’s new approach. An increase in shops, restaurants, cafés, and residential construction, paired with the continued emphasis of the Lord Mayor’s office on bolstering the city’s night time offer – one of the fastest growing in Australia – means that the CBD is slowly being transformed. Once an area that was dead after dark, it is gradually becoming a vibrant, seven-day-a-week center.

Scaleable Sightlines: Cameras were first installed in Brisbane’s CBD in 2008. Now, seeing their potential, the city is looking to upgrade their quality, moving to cameras that have a better functionality in low light for better performance at night. The upgrade is possible because Brisbane’s top-notch system has been designed so the latest camera technology can be switched in without requiring recalibration of the entire network.

Pedestrian Paradise: The Queen Street Mall in Brisbane’s CBD is the largest and busiest pedestrianized shopping street in the city, and one of the most safety-focused, too. Together, shop owners and Brisbane City Council run CitySafe: a network of nearly 100 CCTV cameras that monitor activity to ensure a safe and successful mall. Queen Street is a crucial element in the business district’s future as its pedestrianization has encouraged all types of people to visit the precinct, sustaining a range of shops and restaurants.

Buildings that Breathe: Embracing its subtropical climate as a point of international competitiveness, Brisbane City Council has developed a guideline for ‘buildings that breathe’. Under this principle, walls and windows open to let in natural light and cooling breezes. Shaded outdoor areas and greenery create places to relax and meet, such as at 111 Eagle Street and Riparian Plaza (pictured). Not only do these design features reduce energy costs, but they also help pedestrian flow through the CBD, as more and more space becomes friendly and permeable, creating alternative routes to overused arteries.

The completion of key infrastructural projects, such as King George Square, has only further complemented the shift. The square, located just outside City Hall, was reopened in 2009 after 16 months of upgrade works. Reimagined as a wide-open public space programmed with events, the development integrates a new underground public bus station to alleviate street congestion and improve pedestrian access, as well as increase transit capacity by connecting to an existing underground bus station nearby.

King George Square anchors a new ‘green spine’ for the city: a pedestrianized route running through the CBD along Albert Street. Mobility and public space are cornerstones of Brisbane’s urban future, as the CBD reinvents itself as the true heart of the city. But it’s not all happening on the drawing board: technology is being layered in to both monitor and learn from designs, but also to add real-time tools for both City Council and Brisbane residents.

Closed-circuit cameras are not only used by law enforcement but also by planners to measure the success of the new pedestrian routes. A 2014 Parking Taskforce has recommended the use of sensors to allow residents to find empty parking spaces via phone apps – trials have already begun.

There’s a balance of thinking here, where urbanism is enhanced by current technology, but not dominated by it. Brisbane is attempting to reinvent its CBD as the true core of the city: not just for business, but also for leisure, for transit and as a hallmark of the quality of life that will keep this city globally competitive

Active Environments: Unused, unsafe spaces: that was the problem of the CBD’s laneways. The Vibrant Laneways program sought to transform these spaces into opportunities for small business – shops, cafés and small bars – and places to celebrate creativity through a series of public art pieces and performances. And they’ve accomplished something more, too: these are now safe places to walk, and so pedestrian flow in the CBD has been given another much-needed improvement.

Building Bridges: To improve health and safety in the CBD, more people needed to be able to visit. For this reason, upgrading the river’s bridges along its south bank (home to parks and attractions) was important. With the increasing traffic and parking pressure in the city, focus was deliberately placed on making walking and cycling an enjoyable alternative: in 2001 and 2009 Brisbane constructed the pedestrian- and cyclist-only Goodwill and Kurilpa bridges.

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Integrated Spaces: A good city is a seamlessly connected city, and Brisbane’s refurbishment of King George Square (pictured) is an example of precisely that. It’s not only a good open space, with leafy trees and plenty of seating, but it also connects City Hall to busy Albert Street and provides a hub for public transportation. Importantly, key public bus infrastructure was moved underground, improving not only the look of the street but also people’s ability to access the square on foot.

The River City: Where once the city turned its back on the Brisbane River, now it sees the waterway as a hub of leisure and dining. The river makes yet another contribution to the city’s increasingly linked-up infrastructure – from its bridges and walkways to its CityCat ferries. Eagle Street Pier (pictured) combines all of these elements: public transport, walking and cycling routes next to the river and an identity as a destination, lined with fine dining and relaxed bars.

 

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