Monday, March 12, 2007

Brisbane: no nudes, more buildings

One of the regular readers of this blog has complained that there are too many pictures of buildings, and not enough pictures of naked women on the beach. He's probably right, but once again, this report on Brisbane is a lot of boring real estate talk. But coming soon will be a lovely picture of Sally in a red lycra body suit, and before we leave Australia, I promise some special pictures from the beach.
When Sally and I came to Australia two years ago we never made it to Brisbane; so this was our first visit. I had a positive impression of Australia’s third city from architects, planners and others who had visited me at UniverCity, and from magazine and web stories. But I still wasn’t prepared for such a lively and attractive city. Brisbane was founded as a penal colony in 1824, and remained as such until 1842. Since then it has grown to a population of around 1.5 million, and is increasing by 1000 people a week. It is not on the ocean, but is a waterfront city by virtue of a large river that snakes its way through the centre.
Perhaps our positive impression was influenced in part by our fortuitous decision to stay at McArthur’s Chambers. When we booked, we had no idea where this apartment/hotel was located. We were attracted by its heritage status and accompanying website photos; but it couldn’t have been more central. It was at the equivalent of Granville and Georgia. Although we booked a one bedroom suite, they put us into an elegant 1400 sq ft two bedroom, two bathroom apartment, with a separate study. We had too much space so we invited Gordon Price, who was on a lecture tour nearby, to stay with us. We heartily recommend McArthurs’ Chambers to anyone visiting Brisbane. Brisbane’s urban success is attributed in part to Expo 88, which was held on a large former industrial site on the waterfront. Sound familiar? As a result of the world’s fair, new parks, housing, and restaurants were built, and the downtown became a much more attractive place to live, attracting people from around the world. Sound familiar? In recent years, a large ‘cultural precinct’ has grown up along the waterfront, including a major new Contemporary Art Gallery. Maybe this too will one day sound familiar! Like Sydney, Brisbane has an integrated public transit system with ferries and ‘City Cats’ (instead of ‘River Cats’) connecting communities up and down the river. The University of Queensland is located at one end, and it was interesting to see students, many with bikes, riding the ferry to ‘Uni’.

The bus system has dedicated roadways, tunnels, and bridges to help move through the city. While we found the service to be quite good, I was told that I would not likely use it as a re
gular commuter. But if I lived there, I certainly would like to take the ferry to work.

Fortunately, we were able to learn about the city from some locals. We had a wonderful evening with Bob and Geri Stimson at the Cricket Club, where we dined on fresh mud crabs (they taste much better than the name implies!) I first met Bob through PRCUD, (Pacific Rim Council on Urban Development) more than 10 years ago. He is at the University of Queensland, when he’s not traveling the world with other academics including SFU’s Warren Gill!

I also toured the university with John Abbott, who splits his time between academia and the State Office of Urban Management where he’s working on regional infrastructure strategies. In glancing through his latest documents, you could substitute Vancouver for Brisbane, and the documents would be equally relevant to both cities!
I also met with Brian Stewart, Executive Director of the state chapter of the Urban Devel
opment Institute-Australia. One might say he’s the Maureen Enser of Queensland. He’s certainly as dedicated and passionate. There are many similarities between the two organizations, with a lot of work being devoted to housing affordability, smart growth strategies, green buildings and Awards. But at the national level, UDI Australia is a much more impressive organization than UDI Canada. Brian was getting ready to attend the National Congress in Perth next week.

While I briefly considered changing our flight plans to attend, I was somewhat discouraged by the need to buy clothes to comply with the various dress requirements!
Brian and UDI are doing some interesting work in the area of Green Building Standards. Rather than adopt LEED or one of the other international certification systems, they have developed ‘enviroDEVELOPMENT’ ( It’s a rating system similar to LEED, which awards up to six leaves, rather than a gold, silver or bronze rating. It is administered by UDI and a panel of industry experts. As Brian talked about his efforts to convince the state and local governments to support more environmentally responsible housing, I just had to show him Vancouver’s new EcoDensity website. As he glanced at it, I could see his eyes light up! It was like Dr Stanley meeting Dr. Livingstone in the midst of the African jungle. Well almost.

I must comment on Brisbane’s architecture. While many of the new downtown developments are very impressive, I was astonished at the variety of contemporary design evident in new single and multi family developments around the city. While there may be some fake stylistic housing similar to what we find around Vancouver, I didn’t see it. I’m including some photos of a new single family subdivision, townhouses, and apartments that are typical of what I saw. Obviously the good climate and lack of sn
ow load and earthquake design requirements help Australian designers. (However, I can’t believe the attractive exterior wood detailing will hold up for many years, even in Queensland, without a lot of maintenance.) As I write on the plane flying out of Brisbane, I know we will return before too long. Our two cities have a lot in common, and there’s much we can each learn from one another. While touring Brisbane’s waterfront housing, I saw one development that I plan to copy once I get back to Vancouver. It’s a very clever concept for street row housing! All being well, the profits will cover the cost of this around-the- world trip!


David and Jackie said...

Hi Michael and Sally

Honoured to have got a mention in your 13th March entry. Great blog generally by the way; enjoyed it - wish we'd done the same, but we've just kept a daily journal. Glowing mention of you both in our entry for that day. We spent a very interesting couple of hours with you both - thank you. So many coincidences (but then that's quantum physics for you!). Isn't travel wonderful - keep on enjoying it.

Best wishes, David and Jackie

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