I originally wrote this article for the Courier Mail's 'Future Brisbane' series in September, 2017, but since they put it behind a paywall, I thought I'd repost it here so everyone can read it.
BRISBANE residents have lost control over how our neighbourhoods evolve and develop. Planning decisions about where to increase density are driven primarily by corporate profit and short-term vote-chasing, rather than long-term social needs and sustainable planning principles.
On current trajectories, future Brisbane may well be a divided city. The wealthy will enjoy medium-density, mixed-use neighbourhoods in close proximity to public transport, job opportunities and good schools, while the poor are banished to sprawling outer-suburban fringes.
Thousands of middle-class residents will be crowded into poorly-designed highrises with very low ratios of green space per person, working 60-hour weeks just to cover the mortgage.
Rising sea levels and heavier rains will flood low-lying neighbourhoods more often, and skyrocketing inner-city land values will mean governments never have enough money to acquire land for new parks, drainage infrastructure and community facilities.
The word “affordability” has been largely absent from Future Brisbane conversations. But neglecting to discuss the issue doesn’t change the fact that right now, tens of thousands of Brisbanites are homeless. Public housing waiting lists are so long that residents are advised not to bother applying unless they qualify as “very high needs”.
Suburbs like West End and New Farm, which once derived their special character in part from the fact that rich and poor residents lived in close proximity, are becoming glossy brochure parodies of their former selves.
Increasing the supply of apartments hasn’t substantially improved affordability for first-homebuyers, because wealthy investors consistently outbid them.
In suburbs like South Brisbane, we’re now seeing some investors choose to leave apartments empty rather than rent them out cheaply. Others are becoming hotel managers via websites like AirBnB, prioritising short-term visitors over longer-term local tenants.
In short, the private market is failing to deliver genuinely affordable housing.
But there are practical alternatives. Many European cities have strengthened renters’ rights and invested heavily in public housing to preserve the vibrant inner-city creative neighbourhoods that attract tourists and improve urban amenity.
Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government can and should work together to fund and construct high-quality medium-density public housing in close proximity to public transport and job opportunities. And I don’t just mean 140 dwellings per year like the State Government is currently proposing for Brisbane. I mean thousands of dwellings.
Vulnerable residents can be dispersed throughout the city rather than concentrated together, improving social mobility and strengthening relationships between different demographics and sub-cultures. Government-led housing projects can include sustainable design features like greywater recycling and onsite composting that would rarely be delivered by the private sector. Yes, it will be expensive. But it’s still cheaper than leaving people homeless.
Realistically, a drastic increase in the construction of public housing is the only way we’ll be able to address the housing affordability crisis without significantly lowering property values of existing owner-occupiers.
But the journey towards a fairer, more sustainable city need not stop there. With more investment into pollution control and revegetation, many of the creeks feeding into the Brisbane River can be restored so that once again they are clean enough to swim in (a few nets to keep out bullsharks wouldn’t go astray).
A new Aboriginal cultural centre in Musgrave Park would show genuine respect for the rightful owners of this city.
Inner-city golf courses can be repurposed as fruit orchards, sports fields, nature reserves, and even tiny house eco-villages.
Roads will be narrowed, with general traffic lanes reclaimed for bus lanes, separated bike lanes and broader tree-lined footpaths.
Repair cafes, tool libraries and community composting programs will help us shift towards a less wasteful, less consumerist culture.
Sewerage will become a resource – a source of both bioenergy and fertiliser.
Suburbia’s sprawling backyards will be filled with either granny flats or veggie patches, and community gardens will proliferate in under-used parklands and road verges.
Street artists will replace grey concrete with vivid murals that inspire and engage both locals and visitors.
And of course, we will abandon cringeworthy tags like ‘Brisvegas’ and ‘new world city’ in favour of a civic identity that respects and learns from its history, and embraces progress without becoming a soulless, gaudy, cookie-cutter copy of every other big new city around the world.
But perhaps most importantly, a future Brisbane can and should give ordinary residents more input and control over urban planning.
To meet tomorrow’s challenges, everyone will need to be given a say, not just at election time, but through ongoing participatory democratic processes which ensure that the big decisions that shape our city benefit all of us, and not just a privileged minority.
As well as objecting to over-the-top developments, I wanted to highlight positive examples.
The projects featured below certainly aren’t perfect, but they do include elements that we can learn from. My deeper concerns about over-development are not just about specific design features in individual buildings, but the major shortfall of public infrastructure and services and the unfair and unsustainable economics of our whole housing system.Read more
Local residents will gather in Kurilpa Point Park on Saturday morning to protest the installation of hostile landscaping under the Kurilpa Bridge, calling for stronger renters rights and more investment in public housing.
The state government is spending $120 000 installing boulders under the Kurilpa Bridge near GOMA to deter homeless people from sleeping there, despite objections from the local councillor.
Last week, Gabba Ward Councillor Jonathan Sri organised a group of activists to illegally dismantle the temporary fencing.
"Moving homeless people on from one public space to another just causes more problems," Councillor Sri says. "The solution is to strengthen renters rights and build more public housing.
“They must have rocks in their head if they think putting boulders under the bridge is going to fix anything.”
“Nowhere is safe to sleep when you’re homeless,” Councillor Sri says. “But people were gathering under the bridge because it was sheltered from the rain and felt safer than other alternatives. It makes me so sad that the government is fencing people out instead of building more homes for them.”
“The Queensland Government is only investing an average of $120 million per year in public housing. That’s the same amount that they give in annual prize money to the racing industry.”
“The current proposal to build 500 dwellings per year across the entire state is woefully insufficient when around 30 000 people are languishing on the public housing waiting list right now,” Councillor Sri said.
The Australian Homelessness Monitor Report 2018 shows that homelessness in Brisbane has risen by 32% since 2011 (source: page 9 of the report)
“Since 2011, we saw big increases in rents at the bottom end of the market, forcing lots of people onto the street. The new privately owned highrise apartments are much more expensive to rent, so West End’s construction boom has had significant negative side-effects. Queensland really needs stronger rules against excessive rent increases.”
“Sometimes the government claims it has offered housing to rough sleepers, but this is often just in overpriced short-term boarding houses or motels, because there’s not enough public housing. It’s not a long-term solution.”
“If they had actually housed all the rough sleepers around Kurilpa Point, why do they need to spend so much money keeping homeless people away from this bridge?”
Max Chandler-Mather, Greens candidate for Griffith, said it was clear the only solution was a massive investment in social housing. “The Australian Greens want to invest in building 500,000 beautifully designed social homes over 15 years and guarantee everyone access to a good home. This would be the biggest social reform since Medicare.”
“The private housing market is destroying people’s lives and it’s madness that we are leaving millions of people to suffer while banks and property developers rake in billions in profits. Rather than build fences, Labor should commit to the sort of social housing construction boom that transformed Australian society in the 1950s and continue to benefit countries like Austria and the Netherlands.”
The rally will take place at 9am on Saturday, 17 November at the southern end of the Kurilpa Footbridge, next to GOMA.
Media enquiries: 0488 199 015
The following open letter was sent on 8 November, 2018 to Councillor Schrinner (Chair of Public and Active Transport), Councillor Bourke (Chair of City Planning) and Councillor Cooper (Chair of Infrastructure).
Although Ipswich Road carries high volumes of traffic, we cannot continue to widen this corridor in the future, and must instead focus on encouraging more residents to use active and public transport rather than driving.
Dear Councillors Schrinner, Cooper and Bourke,
I write to share with you my vision for the future of Ipswich Rd, and to ask you to take the necessary steps within each of your portfolios to ensure that no further widening of this corridor occurs. As you know, Ipswich Road is congested during peak periods, but flows relatively freely at other times of the day. Ipswich Road has been widened repeatedly in the past, and car-centric development over the past few decades has turned the corridor into a hostile and inhospitable area for pedestrians. The combined impact of Ipswich Rd and the Pacific Motorway has been to carve up Woolloongabba, fragmenting local neighbourhoods and cutting residents off from easy access to local businesses. This results in more Woolloongabba residents driving for local trips to schools and shops rather than using active transport, thus exacerbating traffic congestion.
Council’s current plans for Ipswich Road are extremely self-contradictory and inconsistent. On the one hand, land use zoning and related neighbourhood planning strategies seek to create a mixed-used neighbourhood along the corridor, with ground-level retail and commercial activation accompanied by high-density residential development where the majority of residents walk, ride or catch public transport as their main ways of getting around. On the other hand, council’s transport network planning team continue to insist on land resumptions to add car lanes and widen the corridor, accompanied by high-speed car-friendly road rules. It is very difficult to created vibrant activated streetscapes when cars and trucks are roaring past at 60km/h.
I would like to see Ipswich Road shift away from being so focussed on private motor vehicle transport, with a clear agreement between residents and council that no further widening of the corridor will occur through Woolloongabba, Annerley or Moorooka.
While I am not challenging the role of Ipswich Road as a major transport corridor, I am suggesting it would be better to transition this corridor to focus more heavily on active transport and public transport, with:
- 40km/h speed limits near sensitive uses such as schools, hospitals, ground-level retail and high-density residential
- intersection timings that give greater priority to pedestrians
- shorter distances between pedestrian crossing points
- pedestrian-priority crossings along side-streets connecting to Ipswich Rd
- broad, shaded leafy footpaths
- safe, separated bike lanes, and
- higher-frequency public transport services support by dedicated bus lanes and/or peak-hour transit lanes.
The council’s recent response to a development application for a Bunnings at 73 Ipswich Road (DA A004789857) has raised concerns that rather than supporting the necessary shift towards public and active transport, council is still requiring individual developers to widen sections of the corridor as part of the DA approval. The plans submitted by the developer (apparently in response to council’s request) suggest that Ipswich Rd would become 8 lanes wide, with a ninth turning lane into the Bunnings site.
This is a deeply flawed approach which is not supported by modern principles of sustainable transport planning. As you know, there is no scope to widen the Main St corridor or the Story Bridge further north in Kangaroo Point. Nor would it be financially or politically viable to widen connecting east-west corridors like Vulture St and Stanley Street. So even if short stretches of Ipswich Rd could have lanes added as part of individual DAs, overall the corridor has reached its limits, and widening short segments will simply exacerbate existing traffic bottlenecks rather than solving congestion.
While Ipswich Road is an important connector into the CBD and the inner-south side, it also carries significant volumes of inter-suburban traffic, with people using it to access shopping precincts, industrial areas, hospitals, schools, green spaces, community facilities and different residential neighbourhoods. The 100 bus route is well used, but turns off this corridor when it reaches the Gabba, meaning there is no high-frequency connection from Annerley and Woolloongabba up to Kangaroo Point and Fortitude Valley. I understand council is currently considering introducing a new high frequency CityGlider service to run north-south from Royal Brisbane Hospital and Fortitude Valley over the Story Bridge and down Ipswich Road to Moorooka train station. I support this proposal and believe it could be made much more efficient by designating one lane of Ipswich Rd as a T3 lane with in-lane bus stops, ensuring a high-frequency reliable public transport service that encourages people to use the bus rather than driving. A BRT (bus rapid transit) service along Ipswich Rd, coupled with lower speed limits, bike lanes, street trees and better pedestrian crossings, would transform Ipswich Rd into an active travel corridor and help catalyse new development to revitalise the area.
I would like a response from each of you to understand whether your administration supports this overall vision, or whether you do intend to widen Ipswich Road further in the future.
More urgently, I would like you to place a halt on any plans to widen Ipswich Road until further community conversations have been held about the future of this corridor. Please act immediately to prevent any development of 73 Ipswich Rd which would encourage more vehicles to drive to this site, and to ensure that no lanes will be added to this stretch of Ipswich Road.
LATEST UPDATE: Here's an email I sent out after our community meeting on Saturday, 22 September. Further below, you can find a longer write-up about the hotel...
I'm sending this to everyone who has expressed concerns about over-development in the Gabba Ward or a specific interest in the future of the Broadway Hotel at Woolloongabba.
Thank you so much to everybody who came along to our public meeting about the hotel on Saturday afternoon. It was great to see so much enthusiasm and support for preserving the hotel, with people travelling from as far away as Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast to be part of the discussion.
At the meeting, there was extremely strong support for the hotel site being acquired by council or the State Government so that it could remain in public hands, with only a couple of people believing the hotel should remain in private ownership.
There was also strong agreement that profit-driven highrise development has gotten out of hand in Brisbane, and that all levels of government need to do more to provide public green space and community infrastructure to cater for our growing population. Most attendees agreed that even a 20-storey tower to the rear of the Broadway Hotel site would be too tall and would undermine the heritage values of the old pub.
The community was much more divided as to whether the hotel needed to be rebuilt exactly in accordance with its original design, with some people arguing that the hotel’s internal features are just as important in terms of heritage as the external façade, while other residents noted that although the insides of the restored hotel should remain true to the style and theme of the original building, some flexibility is necessary in order to facilitate disability access and ensure the layout of the hotel rooms best accommodates future community uses. This is a tricky question that we should all have further discussions about among our friends and family. How closely does the design of the restored hotel need to match the original building?
Another interesting suggestion to come out of the meeting was that once the site comes back into public ownership, it might be possible to organise volunteers and in-kind support from industry professionals to rebuild the heritage hotel for a much cheaper price than it would cost if left up to private contractors. This idea would require further exploration down the line, but there are plenty of successful examples of this from cities around the world.
It was a useful first meeting to bring people together and share information. But this is only the start of the struggle...
Call key decision-makers
Right now, we need as many people as possible to call on both Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (Ph 3403 4400, email email@example.com) and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad (Ph 3724 9100, email firstname.lastname@example.org) to buy the Broadway Hotel and rebuild it for public use. If you haven’t already contacted these two decision-makers, please take a moment to do so.
There are a few petitions about the hotel floating around, but our council epetition is specifically calling for Brisbane City Council to buy the site, so it would be useful to get as many signatures on it as possible. Please sign hereand encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same.
Valuing the land
Given that we want the council and State Government to buy this site, we need a clearer estimate of the property’s current value. We’ve asked a few property industry people for their thoughts, but if anyone with experience in land valuation can spend some time coming up with a more accurate value for the 93 Logan Rd site in its current state (keeping in mind the requirement to rebuild the hotel and the zoning of 20 storeys) as well as the neighbouring sites at 44 Balaclava St and 85 Logan Rd, we would love to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com.
Expert design panel
A couple of architects, landscape architects and other design professionals have expressed interest in creating concept plans for redeveloping the Broadway site as a community facility and public park. If you have any expertise in this area and would like to be involved, please send me an email and we’ll link you in with the group. Hopefully we can come up with a design proposal that’s practically feasible but can also inspire more people to get excited about possibilities for this site.
Down the track, we might look at broadening this into a collaborative community design process, but we don’t want to spend too much time and energy on that until we have a firmer commitment that council and the State Government are going to put up the money to buy the site.
Community campaign meeting
With council and State Government elections on the horizon in 2020, now is a good time to start building political pressure for this site to be acquired and brought back into public ownership. For that to happen, we’ll need a robust community campaign spearheaded by residents to build pressure on city councillors and State MPs across the city.
We’re holding a campaign organising meeting at my office at 4pm on the afternoon of Saturday, 6 October (office address is 2/63 Annerley Rd, Woolloongabba, and you can access the meeting room via the rear entry by going through the carpark off Crown Street). This meeting is specifically for people who might want to volunteer a bit of time and energy fighting for the restoration of the Broadway Hotel.
Even if you can only spare a couple of hours a week, please come along to this meeting and we can start planning further actions to save this historic site. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know if you’re coming.
If you can’t make this particular meeting but would still like to be actively involved in helping organise the campaign, please let us know and we’ll keep you in the loop.
The fight to rebuild the Broadway and repurpose this site for public use is a crucial part of the broader struggle to preserve heritage and protect against over-development across South-East Queensland. It's also an amazing opportunity to secure more public green space, community facilities and perhaps even a small component of affordable housing or crisis accommodation for people fleeing domestic violence. The more people who get involved in this campaign, the better our chances are of success. But if we don’t stand up to protect Brisbane’s unique character and identity, we risk losing it forever.
Feel free to forward this email to anyone else who might be interested, and hopefully we’ll see you at the campaign organising meeting on Saturday, 6 October.
Where to Next?
Lots of residents have been asking what’s going to happen to the Broadway Hotel after the most recent fire. Both the State Government and Brisbane City Council have said they want the hotel restored, but that seems unlikely if it’s left up to the private sector.
I won’t run through the full, fascinating history of this hotel, but the most relevant immediate background context is that it was functioning as a bar and entertainment venue right up until 2010, when a fire caused some significant internal damage, but no major structural damage.
The current owner of the hotel site at 93 Logan Rd and the neighbouring vacant office building at 44 Balaclava Street is Malcolm Nyst, who currently owns or part-owns several other historic buildings around Queensland including the Fox Hotel on Melbourne St in South Brisbane. We understand Mr Nyst bought the hotel site (93 Logan Rd) for $700 000 in January 1997 from Quetel Pty Ltd but we haven’t been able to confirm that. The neighbouring site at 85 Logan Rd (which is currently used as an impound lot for towed cars) is currently owned by Mr and Mrs Economidis.
Photos from post-fire inspections in 2010, along with statements from a heritage restoration architect who worked on the hotel, confirm that the building was still very much salvageable. It probably would have cost less than $1 million to restore.
There have been more small fires in the building in recent years, including one on 20 May, 2017. You can read the fire inspection reports here and here. There were local anecdotal reports of another small fire in October 2017.
Image 1: The Broadway Hotel after the 2010 Fire; Image 2: The Broadway Hotel in August 2018
The hotel is protected on both Brisbane City Council’s local heritage register, and on the State Government’s State Heritage Register. This means both levels of government have powers and responsibilities to ensure the historic buildings are protected and maintained, and that both levels of government have to give approval for any new development affecting the site.
The heritage listing includes the main three-storey hotel building, but also the various one-storey and two-storey wings/ancillary buildings at the back and sides. Some of these ancillary buildings are also quite hold and carry a lot of heritage value in and of themselves. There’s even a World War 2 air raid shelter at the back of the property. You can read the State Heritage Register listing at this link.
World War 2 Air Raid Shelter
Highrise Development Plans
Over the last few years, Seb Monsour of Majella Properties was in negotiation with Mr Nyst and Mr and Mrs Economidis to buy the hotel site at 93 Logan Rd as well as the neighbouring properties (85 Logan Rd and 44 Balaclava St), subject to approval of a development application. This is not an uncommon practice for some developers. They get the written consent of the existing landowners to lodge a development application for a site, then once the development is approved, it becomes a lot easier for the developer to get loans from a bank to buy the land and finance the development.
Majella lodged a development application in March 2017 to build a 27-storey highrise tower on the hotel site (including 85 Logan and 44 Balaclava). The proposal included 262 residential apartments, 379 carparks and just under 5300m2 of commercial space. You can view all the plans at this link. The plans proposed to demolish the smaller buildings that are part of the hotel (some of which have significant heritage value), while preserving and restoring the main three-storey structure (the most iconic part of the hotel) at the front. From the moment my office became aware of the plans, we were pushing strongly for them to be rejected.
The site was zoned for 20 storeys, but heritage considerations can override the zoning, and there is a strong argument to be made that locating a 20-storey building so close to the hotel (and looming over it) would have undermined its heritage values. There was no guarantee that a 20-storey tower immediately behind the hotel would have been approved by both BCC and the State Government – a lot depended on the subjective discretionary judgement of the heritage experts within the State Government’s State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA).
Even though the current LNP-dominated city council is very pro-highrise, it seemed unlikely to me that the 27-storey development application would have been approved by council, particularly considering that it required demolition of the ancillary wings of the hotel.
Tower with old hotel in foreground
On 9 June 2017, BCC issued an information request to the developer, raising concerns about the height and bulk of the tower, the insufficient setbacks (the space between buildings), the details of the proposed restoration of the main hotel building and a number of smaller issues. You can read the information request at this link. Disappointingly, although council was concerned about a 27-storey building, the council did not necessarily object to a 20-storey tower on the site behind the hotel.
Around June/July 2017, the developer applied to the State Government for approval for emergency demolition of several of the ancillary buildings on the basis that the small fire in May 2017 had made them unsafe and unsalvageable, and that urgent demolition was necessary. We understand that the State Government approved this partial demolition of the hotel, but it never happened.
In September 2017, it appears that the State Government approved Majella’s highrise development plans (including the demolition of the one and two-storey wings of the hotel). This was a disappointing and surprising move by the State Government, but it did not necessarily mean the city council would definitely approve the new tower. It seems SARA had no concerns about the loss of the one and two-storey wings of the hotel or the fact that a 27-storey tower would be looming over the old building. Meanwhile, the height concerns and other design issues raised by the council’s request for information were still an outstanding question mark.
Over the next few months, the developer requested multiple time extensions to respond to the council’s information request from 9 June, 2017. This suggests to me that Majella was not sure how to proceed and did not consider that the project would be commercially viable if council insisted on the 20-storey height limit. Presumably, Majella had calculated that it could afford to retain and restore the main hotel building (demolishing the secondary wings) only if it was able to build up to 27 storeys, but without the 7 extra storeys, it wasn’t profitable enough.
On 4 June, 2018, Seb Monsour (CEO of Majella) wrote to council requesting another three-month time extension. On 8 June, the council replied and gave Majella an extension for just one month, so a response was due from the developer on 9 July, 2018.
On 22 June, news broke that Seb Monsour had been charged by police for $5 million of investment fraud. The legal proceedings regarding these charges are ongoing and probably won’t be resolved for some time.
On 10 July, 2018, Seb Monsour wrote to Brisbane City Council and formally withdrew his development application.
Broadway demolition plan
On the night of Saturday, 1 September 2018, another large fire engulfed the main three-storey hotel building. Firefighters were called at 12:40am, suggesting the fire had started just after midnight.
Witnesses reported noisy explosions during the blaze.
I still haven’t seen any fire inspection reports, but it seems pretty unlikely that a definitive cause will be identified. As usual, the fire will probably just be blamed on squatters.
We don’t yet know exactly what condition the hotel is now in, although the damage looks pretty bad.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that structural engineers haven’t yet inspected the property properly because they don’t believe it’s safe to go in.
Was the Hotel Properly Maintained?
It’s pretty obvious that the hotel was not being maintained and secured to a standard appropriate for a State Heritage-listed building.
I won’t go into all the details, but it did seem like the hotel was being allowed to deteriorate. Photos taken inside the hotel in August 2018 show that a large amount of flammable debris had been allowed to build up inside the building. When these photos are compared to photos taken immediately after the 2010 fire, it’s obvious that the building was not being kept clean and secure. A lot of damage occurred after the 2010 fire rather than during the 2010 fire.
Major holes and leaks in the roof went unrepaired, and water damage was spreading throughout the building.
One photo from February 2015 even shows that old gas canisters had been left in the historic World War 2 air raid shelter at the back of the property. The presence of gas canisters on site might explain the explosions reported on the night of 1 September, 2018.
Our office regularly reported our concerns about the hotel to Brisbane City Council, as did many other residents. It seems that BCC and the State Government’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection both inspected the property on multiple occasions, but only asked for minor security enhancements, such as boarding up doors and windows and erecting more fencing. Neither level of government issued any fines to the owner for failing to secure the property, or for failing to clean up the flammable debris inside the building.
Regardless of the cause of the fire, it seems obvious to me that the building was not being maintained in such a way as to minimise the risk of fire damage. Even cheap and simple steps like cleaning up old mattresses and piles of rubbish were not taken.
On one occasion, when I raised my concerns about the building directly with Seb Monsour, he said that because he wasn’t technically the owner (which is true), it wasn’t his responsibility to secure and maintain the building. Make of that what you will.
Ultimately, both levels of government failed to act to protect the building. In some other jurisdictions, if an owner of a historic building fails to maintain it, the government will go and make the repairs itself, and then bill the owner for the costs, but that doesn’t happen in Queensland. In this case, the State Government didn’t even issue simple fines to the owner, but seemed to accept that the steps the owner took to secure the property were sufficient.
Until someone produces some structural engineering reports, it’s an open question as to whether the building can be saved and restored. Deputy Premier Trad has said publicly that if the fire-damaged structure has to be torn down for safety reasons, it should be rebuilt in a manner identical to the original design.
In fact, if the hotel was renovated or completely rebuilt, new building regulations and disability access requirements would mean that some pretty major changes would have to be made to the internal layout and design of the building compared to the original design.
My main concern is that now the burnt out hotel is just going to sit there for another ten or twenty years.
It’s all well and good for council and the State Government to insist that the hotel should be rebuilt, but this ignores the commercial realities of the private property industry.
How Much is the Site Worth?
The site at 93 Logan Rd is a bit under 2200m2 and is zoned for 20 storeys. This is an usual site, and I’m definitely not a property valuer, but depending on market conditions, an empty block of land of that size in Woolloongabba might sell for anywhere between $3 and $8 million. If you sold it as a package with the neighbouring lots at 44 Balaclava St and 85 Logan Rd (taking the total site area up to around 3300m2) or you had an existing development approval for highrises, you could probably get even more for it.
But with a strict requirement to restore or rebuild the old hotel, which has a footprint of almost 900m2, the land is substantially less valuable and commercially attractive. You have to factor in the cost of building the old hotel (which local architects and developers tell me would probably be around $3 million) plus you have a significantly reduced development footprint.
The hotel business is risky at the best of times. And there’s already an oversupply in Woolloongabba of commercial space. Around the 4102 postcode, a lot of properties that have been fitted out as retail stores, offices, restaurants or bars are sitting empty at the moment. Even Majella’s development proposal did not actually include preserving the majority of the three-storey hotel building as a hotel, and instead contemplated putting the restored building to other uses.
When I asked one local developer how much he thought the site was worth if it included a strict requirement to rebuild the Broadway, he said it was almost worthless. Under current market conditions, it simply isn’t financially profitable to redevelop this site. That means the current owner will struggle to find a buyer, and no profit-focussed developer is going to want to touch it.
As someone who watches the trajectories of the Brisbane development industry pretty closely, and is well aware of how many developers are currently postponing or pulling out of other apartment development projects around Woolloongabba, I think it is very unlikely that anyone is going to want to lodge a new development application for this property any time in the next five years at least.
A recurring problem
Anyone who owns a heritage-listed property will confirm that maintaining them can be very expensive. Even when they haven’t been damaged by fire, heritage buildings can be a big financial burden. As a result, it’s quite common for old buildings to be left to deteriorate, or to mysteriously catch fire. A similar fate looks likely for another State Heritage-listed building in Kangaroo Point, known locally as Lamb House, which is sitting empty with big holes in the roof, and slowly falling apart.
Leaving historically significant buildings in private ownership is a dicey gamble, particularly in the inner-city. The owners have a lot of compelling financial motivations not to look after a building, because the land is usually worth more without the building on it.
That’s why it’s particularly important that when a heritage-listed building does fall down, or burn down or become infested with termites, strict limitations must be placed on how the site is redeveloped, to avoid creating an incentive for other property owners to neglect their buildings in the same way. If a hotel like the Broadway burns down, and a current or future owner is allowed to build a highrise on the site, the government is essentially rewarding and endorsing the owner’s neglect. So limiting development as a protective deterrent for other heritage sites makes a lot of sense. But it also makes private development less commercially viable.
It’s time to buy back the Broadway
The BCC and the State Government have backed themselves into a bit of a corner. Both levels of government share responsibility for the owner's failure to protect and maintain the hotel. And both levels of government have said they'd like to see the hotel restored. But it is not commercially profitable for private sector developers to do this, and that's not likely to change anytime soon.
If the hotel site remains in private ownership, the government can either allow a developer to knock down the fire-damaged hotel and build 20 storey highrises on the entire site (which I and most residents definitely don't support), or else the abandoned hotel is likely to just sit there for years and years, because private developers won't go near it.
Right now in Woolloongabba, there is an extreme shortage of useable public green space and community facilities. Local halls for hire are regularly booked out, and local community organisations are struggling to find affordable spaces to operate out of. Musicians and artists can’t find affordable spaces to rehearse and perform, and the local live music scene is vulnerable as a result of this. There’s a growing need in this part of the 4102 postcode for a new community centre, and for a range of other support services. The thousands of new apartment residents need spaces for recreation and connecting with their neighbours. They don’t have backyards of their own, so public parks are becoming particularly important.
The Broadway Hotel site is the perfect opportunity to create a new public park with a multipurpose community centre in the middle of it. It’s on a main transport corridor with good street frontages, and would link well to the existing chain of green spaces that connect to the Norman Creek corridor. All the sites around it are zoned for high-density development, so long-term, there are going to be a lot more people in this neighbourhood who are craving green space and community facilities.
Immediately adjacent to the hotel site is a council-owned carpark, which forms part of the road reserve. This under-used patch of bitumen could be combined with 93 Logan Rd (and possibly also 44 Balaclava St and 85 Logan Rd) to create a public park with an area of a couple thousand square metres. With a bit of creative design thinking, part of the site could also be used to build some government-owned public housing or crisis accommodation for people who are struggling to afford homes in the private sector.
I believe the State Government and Brisbane City Council should buy the Broadway Hotel site and bring it back into public ownership and control. There are a range of public uses to which the land could be put, but if we leave it up to the private sector, it’s just going to sit vacant and deteriorate further.
Ideally, the existing hotel could be restored and rebuilt as a community centre and live music venue, or a new community centre that replicates some of the quirky character of the old hotel could take its place. The current owner might not be willing to sell, but the State Government has the power to compulsorily acquire it. Given the site’s historical significance, and the fact that the building has not been properly protected while it remained in private ownership, I think this would be a fair and reasonable step.
It’s time to buy back the Broadway.
If you agree, please take a moment to email Lord Mayor Graham Quirk at email@example.com and the South Brisbane Member of Parliament, Jackie Trad (who is also the State Government’s Deputy Premier and Treasurer) at firstname.lastname@example.org and call on both of them to buy the Broadway Hotel and dedicate the site towards community purposes rather than private highrise development.
A development application has been lodged for the site at 107 to 117 Jane St, West End, directly opposite Davies Park.
In some respects, this proposal actually achieves reasonably good outcomes from an architectural perspective, and is better designed than many of the highrises we've seen popping up around Brisbane.
My core concerns are that the building will cast long shadows on the park and particularly on Jane St Community Garden. I'm also concerned that building an additional 184 carparking spaces on Jane St will lead to further traffic congestion in this area.
The two proposed towers are 12 storey buildings, but some of the levels are actually twice the height of a normal residential storey. There's also substantial built structures on the roofs, meaning that the true height and the shadows cast by these buildings will be more like 15 or 16-storey towers.
I encourage residents to put in a submission raising concerns about the traffic impacts and overshadowing. Personally I don't object to the development altogether, but I'm concerned that the height and the amount of carparking is a bit excessive.
You can view the plans at this link.
You can make a submission via this link.
Because this is being treated as a code assessable development application, there will be no public notification, and council will make a decision relatively quickly unless there is strong feedback from the community.
There are also some great fact sheets on the Tenants Queensland website, including info on starting and ending a lease, landlords’ obligations to maintain the property, and what to do to ensure you get your bond refunded when you move out.
A new campaign for rent controls and stronger renters’ rights is building in Brisbane.
Residents are calling on the State Government to enact meaningful policy reforms that ensure greater stability for renters, moderate the negative impacts of gentrification, and help smooth out the peaks and troughs of the boom-bust property development industry.
In particular, we want the State Government to legislate a ‘right to remain’. This would mean that a landlord must renew a tenant’s lease unless the landlord or their family wants to move into the property themselves, or needs the property vacant in order to make major renovations. Even if a property changes ownership, the tenants would be entitled to remain and have their lease renewed unless the new owner actually wants to move in themselves.
We also believe the State Government needs to enforce a cap on how quickly rents can rise. This would give renters greater stability and financial security, and would help reduce the number of people who are made homeless when a neighbourhood becomes trendy and property values start rising rapidly.
For years now, the burden of advocacy, both in helping tenants with immediate issues like getting their bond back, and in terms of pushing governments to enact broader policy change, has been carried by the hard-working activists over at Tenants Queensland.
As a government-funded, non-party political advocacy organisation, Tenants Queensland has scored some big wins over the years, and I am strongly supportive of the work they do.
But there’s a gap in the Queensland political landscape. The Labor Party continues to pay lip service to tenants’ rights, supporting only modest policy reforms while bowing to pressure from the property industry. Simply put, the two major parties aren’t worried about losing votes on this issue, so there’s not enough impetus for positive change.
A new advocacy group called Brisbane Renters Alliance has formed to fill this gap. Brisbane Renters Alliance does not rely on government funding, so it has more scope to directly criticise and put pressure on the major political parties. Brisbane Renters Alliance is not controlled by or directly connected to any political party, but it actively supports political parties and candidates who are committed to introducing rent controls and a right to remain.
If you support the struggle for stronger renters, you can join Brisbane Renters Alliance via this link.
There's also a public Facebook page that you can follow for updates and announcements, and a closed Facebook group that renters are welcome to join to discuss policy demands and seek advice on dealing with real estate agents.
I intend to support the Brisbane Renters Alliance by co-hosting policy forums, co-ordinating direct action responses to unjust evictions, and directly supporting renters' rights campaigners. I've also decided to use my position as an elected representative to name and shame bad real estate agents.
If current trends continue, pretty soon 3/4 of Brisbane's inner-city population will be renters, most of whom are on short-term leases with very little stability, and who will likely remain renter for most of their lives. This makes the community especially vulnerable to the vagaries of the property market. A sudden spike in real estate values can result in thousands of people being forced out of their homes.
Right now, renters in Queensland have pretty weak rights. But renting doesn't have to suck. If we advocate collectively, we can follow other developed nations in introducing stronger rights and protections for rents, and create a better, fairer housing system for renters and home-owners alike.
The State Government’s South-East Queensland Regional Plan suggests Brisbane needs to build 188 000 dwellings over the next 25 years in order to cater for a population increase of 386 800 residents. This is obviously a pretty big number. The 188 000 dwellings figure is often used by LNP city councillors to justify why they are approving so many big new development projects. When I ask questions about whether all these new apartments are really necessary, the council's response is that the State Government has set the dwelling targets and they have no choice but to try to meet them.
I would argue that more government investment in regional towns could help spread this population growth around the State, encouraging more people to settle in rural communities that are currently experiencing workforce shortages and population decline. But even if you accept that a certain number of new residents simply must be housed in Brisbane, it’s worth recognising that the government’s 188 000-dwelling figure is based on the assumption that each dwelling will only hold an average of 2 residents, and does not appear to contemplate more efficient use of existing dwellings. So instead of focussing on how many standard dwellings we need, let’s talk about housing human beings instead.
The following paragraphs use some approximate figures and make a few broad assumptions, but my hope in writing this is that it will prompt further thinking and detailed research about what alternatives might be possible.
Right now, tens of thousands of homes in Brisbane are sitting empty long-term (some estimates put the number as high as 60 000 or 70 000). Unfortunately, some investors prefer to leave homes vacant rather than renting them out cheaply. When thousands of people are homeless, and over-development pressures are worsening, allowing so much housing to sit empty is not in the public interest.
A straightforward vacancy tax would encourage investors to rent out properties that are identified as long-term empty. Some investors would simply choose to pay the vacancy tax, and this revenue could fund local infrastructure. Others would sell their investment properties, giving first homebuyers a chance to own their own home. A broader-based investment property tax could have a similar impact. If a vacancy tax freed up even 20 000 homes across Brisbane for rent or purchase, this could house another 60 000 residents without anyone having to build a single new dwelling.
Encouraging different kinds of sharehousing
Although many of us have been socialised to lead individualistic lifestyles, and are losing the skills of cohabiting and sharing spaces, there are a lot of benefits to sharehousing or taking in boarders, particularly for demographics at risk of social isolation. A lot of older retirees have one or more spare bedrooms in their home. Providing incentives for some of these people to offer one of their spare bedrooms to a younger housemate would yield the twin benefits of providing affordable housing, and giving elderly people the emotional and practical support they need to remain living in their own homes. This homesharing approach has proven successful in a range of cities around the world (e.g. Melbourne, London, New York), and is preferable to building massive for-profit retirement villages that charge through the nose and cut elderly people off from the broader community.
There are a range of legislative and regulatory barriers that could easily be tweaked to make sharehousing more attractive both for renters and owners. While it’s true that household sizes have declined in recent years, this has been driven in part by housing designs that aren’t suitable for sharehousing. If we broaden our thinking about how we design and retrofit homes (including really simple stuff like having a separate toilet and bathroom) and what forms of property ownership we allow, sharehousing would be a lot more viable for more people. Brisbane City Council has given away millions of dollars in incentives to big developers to build new for-profit student accommodation. Much of this new student accommodation has been of poor quality, and will not be easy to adapt for other purposes if demand from international students ever decreases. There’s no reason the council couldn’t also offer various incentives to encourage renovating older properties to make them more suitable for sharehousing.
Census data suggests roughly three quarters of Australian homes have one or more spare bedrooms. There are currently about 465 000 dwellings in the Brisbane local government area. Around 70% of Brisbane dwellings have three or more bedrooms, but the average household size in 2016 was only 2.6 people, showing that even in a growing city like Brisbane, there are hundreds of thousands of empty bedrooms. Obviously a lot of people like their spare bedrooms and put them to other uses, but tens of thousands of Brisbane homes actually have two or even three spare rooms. And over the coming two decades, as households change and people move in and out of different kinds of properties, we could gradually make much better use of all that dwelling space.
It’s not inconceivable that by 2041 we could have housed an additional 150 000 residents via better sharehousing of existing homes, again without building a single new highrise tower.
Cohousing and granny flats
Cohousing differs slightly from sharehousing, in that while households might share facilities like laundries, gardens and entertainment areas, each household is largely self-contained and has slightly more private space to itself.
There are a range of different cohousing models out there, from concepts like the Nightingale Apartments, where private apartments make more efficient use of space via shared laundries and rooftop gardens; to eco-village communes, where different households cook together, garden together and maybe even share responsibility for looking after each other’s kids. Cohousing models create stronger local communities, are more resilient in times of crisis, and can save money through shared ownership of assets like carshare schemes and collectively-owned solar power systems.
Cohousing tends to be much more space-efficient than other forms of housing. Nightingale-style apartments typically house 30 to 60 people in a block which is only four or five storeys tall on a block that’s only 15m x 50m. In contrast, this new ‘conventional’ highrise development proposed for Kangaroo Point is 16 storeys tall on a similar site footprint, but only includes 15 separate dwellings. If we were to rely purely on buildings like that to meet the State Government’s target of 188 000 new dwellings by 2045, we would need to find room for more than 12 000 of these towers across the city. Cohousing is definitely a better approach.
The humble granny flat is one of the simplest cohousing forms, but current laws and regulations make constructing granny flats and tiny homes in the backyards of existing properties very difficult, particularly if you wish to subdivide and sell the granny flat or rent it out to someone who isn’t related to you.
Apart from older inner-city suburbs, Brisbane homes have traditionally had quite large backyards. Some of these are used for gardening, trees and recreation, but a lot of backyard space is under-utilised.
There are currently about 270 000 detached private dwellings in Brisbane. Many property owners would prefer to leave their backyards as they are, but if even 1 in 5 of these properties found room in their backyard for an additional small-footprint dwelling like a granny flat, and each of these held an average of 1.5 residents (i.e. roughly half were for individuals and half were for couples) we could accommodate around 80 000 additional residents.
Greater support for tiny homes and granny flats would also yield the additional benefit of increasing density in extremely low-density sprawling suburbs, allowing for the more efficient provision of public transport and other services. Although some people might be concerned about slight losses to private green space in suburban backyards, this is clearly preferable to the ongoing conversion of farmland and bushland into sprawling residential developments. Converting a small proportion of private backyards towards housing means more land can be set aside for bushland reserve and larger public parks, and fewer highrises crowding the skyline.
While the figures I’ve quoted so far are rough and approximate, they are also conservative estimates. They assume that most households would continue to leave spare bedrooms empty, that most properties would not build a second dwelling in the backyard, and that most vacant properties would remain empty despite a new vacancy tax. What I hope the figures demonstrate is that there are many ways to accommodate a growing population, and that the State Government and Brisbane City Council have been too hasty in assuming that the need to accommodate an additional 386 000 residents inevitably means we have to build new highrises right across the city.
Encourage small second dwellings on existing properties – 80 000 residents
Encourage more efficient use of empty bedrooms via sharehousing – 150 000 residents
Vacancy tax to reduce the number of homes sitting empty long-term – 60 000 residents.
80 000 + 150 000 + 60 000 = 290 000 additional residents
Rather than the 386 800 residents described in the State Government’s regional plan, we will actually only need to accommodate around 100 000 residents via wholly new development between now and 2041.
Medium-Density rather than Highrise
I take the view that encouraging more medium-density development is preferable to extremely dense highrises, and that this is where the majority of new housing supply should come from to cater for the anticipated additional 100 000 residents over the next 25 years.
The term ‘medium-density’ is ambiguous, and definitions vary widely. The State Government’s regional plan talks briefly about the importance of the ‘missing middle,’ referring to townhouses, terrace homes, flats and low-rise apartments of 2 to 6 storeys in height.
Height obviously isn’t the only key factor. There’s a big difference between a six-storey building that has no setbacks and is built right to the boundary, and a six-storey building that includes open space, room for trees, good cross-ventilation, and contributes positively to the streetscape. But if new developments include ample deep-planted trees and proper setbacks to neighbouring properties, the negative impacts of 4, 5 and 6-storey buildings on the streetscape can be greatly minimised.
In contrast, highrise towers extend well above the natural treeline, and have a much more significant impact on a street, particularly in terms of blocking sunlight and creating a wind tunnel effect. They also tend to be much more disruptive to the surrounding neighbourhood during their lengthy construction periods, and place a far greater ongoing strain on local transport infrastructure.
While in some parts of Brisbane, there is an understandable aversion to the proliferation of townhouses and low-rise apartment developments, this is primarily due to the anticipated negative traffic congestion impacts, which can be addressed through greater funding and support for public transport and active transport. Personally, if it’s a choice between townhouses and highrises, I’ll take the townhouses.
The takeaway from all this is that we don't actually need to build anywhere near as many new dwellings in Brisbane as the State Government has suggested. Those new dwellings that we do need to build can take the form of granny flats in backyards and medium-density townhouses and apartments, rather than highrises.
Last week at UQ we held the first of many public forums about renters rights.
We had a solid turnout (about 30 in total) of both local and international uni students, as well as other residents who weren’t connected to UQ but cared deeply about renters rights.
The discussion covered a range of topics including inadequate repairs and maintenance, landlords conducting surprise inspections without proper notice, and the tendency for real estate agents to give minimal notice before seeking to jack up the rent.
It was particularly interesting (but not surprising) to learn that a lot of the international students were paying as much as $150/week per bedroom more than what domestic renters would consider reasonable for the same standard of home. It seems obvious to me that new migrants who know less about Queensland tenancy law and have less access to information about average market rents are particularly prone to exploitation and rent-gouging by landlords and real estate agents.
Through small and large group conversations, we are beginning to crystalise a few key policy demands that seem to go to the core of the many varied issues that renters are concerned about. In particular, there’s a lot of support for some form of rent controls, and for rules against no-grounds evictions (i.e. landlords shouldn’t be able to end your lease if you don’t want to move out unless they’re moving into the home themselves, or are undertaking major renovations). I think we should be pushing for the rule against no-grounds evictions to extend to new owners, so that even if an investor sells a tenanted property, the lease should automatically continue unless the new owner wants to move in themselves or the tenants want to move out. I’m interested to know what other people think of this.
Rules against sharp rent increases and no-grounds evictions would help shift the power balance between tenants and landlords, giving renters more power to insist that landlords fulfil their existing legal obligations in terms of property maintenance etc.
In the immediate term, we have identified a couple of key tactics to put pressure on the political establishment and on landlords/real estate agents directly.
Resisting Evictions into Homelessness
Where we as a collective feel that a particular tenant is being forcibly evicted unfairly and has no safe home to move to, we will engage in civil disobedience to try to prevent such evictions. We need to address the tactical question of whether we will use direct action to resist evictions from privately owned dwellings or only evictions from government housing and community housing.
We also need further discussions about the best ways to organise such actions, because they are often required at very short notice. From time to time, we will need to mobilise activists quickly, and Facebook events/mass text messaging may not be the most efficient way to do this (although public facebook events with a large number of attendees do help manifest power and put pressure on the police).
Naming and Shaming Dodgy Real Estate Agents
Publicly outing the most exploitative real estate agents was widely agreed as an effective tactic, with the caveat that we need to be very certain that our public criticisms are legitimate and fair. It’s almost certain that some of the agents we shame publicly will sue for defamation. I’m happy to put my name to public statements naming dodgy estate agents as long as we’re confident that the criticisms of them are valid.
A suggested process is that when someone complains about a particular agent, we put the word out through various channels to see if other tenants have had similar bad experiences with that agent, then once we have enough stories about bad behaviour (e.g. at least five), we go public.
There’s a clear need for more info sessions and forums where people can learn what their basic rights as a tenant are and how best to get landlords to fulfil their responsibilities. One suggested format is that the first half of a 90-minute event could be a Q&A session with an expert who knows a lot about the Rental Tenancies Act, and the latter half of the group discussion could focus more on direct action and political advocacy. If anyone is keen to help organise one of these forums, it would be great to get together a pool of 5 to 10 volunteers who have the time and energy to put on forums in different neighbourhoods and in partnership with different community groups.
There’s a lot more to talk about, and I think as we all participate in more conversations about these issues through a range of formal and informal discussion spaces, we’ll gradually arrive at a shared understanding of strategic priorities and key policy demands.
Currently the Brisbane Renters Alliance Facebook Group serves as one of many spaces where such discussions can take place, but it could be cool to set up a slightly more secure online forum that’s also accessible to non-Facebook users if anyone has the energy and skills to do so.
Thoughts and feedback on all of the above are very welcome. Thanks to everyone who came along to the first discussion forum. Hopefully we’ll see a few more new faces at the next one.
Brisbane City Council is currently running a ‘consultation’ process called ‘Plan Your Brisbane’ where they seek resident input into future trajectories for the development of our city. Their marketing and messaging borrows a lot from the rhetoric of radical urban planners and community activists who argue that people should have more of a say in how their city changes and evolves.
But the main problem with this process is that there is no tangible connection or direct relationship between the feedback that residents provide and practical outcomes. The council is not giving residents a binding vote in how infrastructure budgets are allocated or meaningful input into the drafting of the city plan and neighbourhood plans themselves. It is not offering us a vote as to whether new neighbourhood plans that change an area should actually be introduced, or giving us a say as to alternative policy measures that could make more efficient use of existing buildings.
This whole consultation process seems to me like little more than sophisticated propaganda which seeks to shape values and harvest data for the LNP prior to the next council election. It contrasts starkly with true collaborative consultation where you empower residents to actually make the decisions that shape their city. Surveying people and then ignoring the results is not consultation.
A deeper problem with Plan Your Brisbane is that it purports to be a holistic conversation about urban planning, but artificially narrows the parameters of debate and oversimplifies many complex issues to the point of being outright misleading.
This deceptive over-simplification is perhaps most obvious in the Plan Your Brisbane game. Using games and apps to engage and educate residents about urban planning is a great idea if done well. Town planning can be a difficult thing to get people interested in (at least until there’s a skyscraper going up next door) so I’m supportive of using a range of avenues and processes to raise awareness and seek feedback. But this particular game is so simplistic and flawed that I think on balance it does a disservice to the goal of fostering a deeper understanding of complex urban planning issues.
The game revolves around the idea of trade-offs i.e. you have to accommodate people somewhere, so you can either choose high density with more public green space, better transport networks and better services, or low density with less efficient services, less green space, and more expensive housing. This is essentially the ‘tall vs sprawl’ line that the property industry has been running for a long time now to justify cramming more and more people into neighbourhoods that don’t have the infrastructure to handle rapidly growing populations.
It’s clearly unsustainable to continue our recent trend of car-centric suburban sprawl, where we keep replacing bushland and farmland with low-rise residential estates. But BCC’s implicit suggestion that the only viable alternative is to cram people into highrise concrete shoeboxes completely ignores all the great work that so many forward-thinking architects and town planners have been doing to flesh out alternative ways to design housing and develop cities sustainably.
The game quietly omits the fact that although Brisbane is now densifying rapidly, even in the inner-city our transport network planning continues to revolve around cars, with very little investment in bike lanes, pedestrian crossings, traffic calming or affordable public transport. It’s all well and good to argue that higher-density makes it more cost-effective to provide public infrastructure, but that’s not what’s happening in practice. Both Labor and the LNP continue to resist suggestions for lowering speed limits and prioritising active transport. We’re getting higher-density apartment towers, but most of the residents are still driving.
I’ve written in a separate post about how we can sustainably accommodate a growing population without building so many highrises. Contrary to the rhetoric of both Brisbane City Council and the State Government, it may not actually be necessary to build 188 000 new dwellings over the next twenty-five years. In fact, Brisbane could easily accommodate over 200 000 new residents simply by making more efficient use of existing housing stock.
But this isn’t just about how many new dwellings we need. It’s also about where in the city we concentrate growth, how much space per person we think people need to live a comfortable life, and what sort of transport network we develop. None of these questions are open for discussion via council’s Plan Your Brisbane process.
Where’s the conversation about decentralised nodal development that doesn’t concentrate commerce and job opportunities in the city centre, but instead creates medium-density eco villages where everyone lives within walking distance of their workplace? Where’s the conversation about making developers pay their fair share for the cost of infrastructure?
Perhaps the biggest myth perpetuated by this Plan Your Brisbane game is the idea that increasing the supply of private dwellings will significantly improve housing affordability, which is not necessarily true in the Australian context. The failure to even mention the important roles that stronger renters’ rights, vacancy taxes and government-funded social housing can play in improving affordability is a glaring omission from this discussion.
Unfortunately, my version of the game didn’t seem to include the button that lets you compulsorily acquire the sprawling backyards of inner-city mansions and turn them into public soccer fields and community gardens.
It’s all well and good to talk about trade-offs, but any consultation process that expects you to rank desired outcomes like ‘greenspace’, ‘affordability’, ‘lifestyle’ and ‘travel time’ as though they are mutually exclusive options has clearly succumbed to arbitrary and illusory constraints promoted by a profit-hungry property development industry. Where’s the survey question that asks me whether I would prefer to place higher taxes on big banks, multinational corporations or predatory land speculators?
Call me cynical, but I feel like this consultation process is a huge missed opportunity. I worry that a lot of residents who engage with it will feel frustrated and disempowered at being presented with such a narrow range of options. This in turn reinforces nimbyism, making people distrustful and apprehensive of any kind of development – even the well-designed medium-density mixed-use stuff that we need more of. Others will play the game and be completely suckered in by the false binaries, believing that there really aren’t any other alternatives and that the only future they can aspire to is working 50-hour weeks to pay off a 30-year mortgage on a 60m2 apartment.
The main question we should all be turning our minds to is “who makes the real decisions?” This Plan Your Brisbane game and the attached survey do not in any way connect to the city plan or the other laws and policies that actually shape our city. The endless pages of results and feedback will end up being condensed into an over-simplified table from which establishment politicians cherrypick data to justify whatever decisions their corporate financiers want them to make at the time. Behind closed doors, a small group of powerful people are carving up our metropolis and remoulding it to suit their own values and financial interests, while using ‘Plan Your Brisbane’ to gather information on how best to dupe the populace into passively accepting the status quo.
Rather than sham consultations, we need to demand genuine control over the future of our neighbourhoods and our entire region. If we quietly accept whatever they serve us, they’ll keep cooking up the same old shit.