River City must stay the course
ONE of the most common reactions to the recent inundation of homes in Brisbane is that town planning has been at fault.
As someone who was starting a career in town planning in 1974, I can say that, in the ensuing 36 years, there has been a high level of consciousness about flooding and its implications in town-planning practice in southeast Queensland.
That said, however, there has been a revolution in land use in the central part of the city since the time of the 1974 floods.
In that year, the City Reach was still wharves and warehouses and South Bank was factories and more wharves.
Since then, industry, port activities and warehousing have left the central part of the city, often the parts near the river. Significantly, the first major modern building in what is now Brisbane's financial quarter, the AMP "gold tower", was built in 1976, followed by the "blue tower" and then the Riverside Centre.
This redevelopment of Brisbane's central riverfront areas has been accompanied by a reorientation of Brisbane's psyche towards the Brisbane River. In the 1980s, Brisbane became badged as the River City.
The city centre, put there next to the river 180 years ago, progressively has been developed as the greatest concentration of employment in the metropolis - the centre of finance, business and public administration, the largest concentration of shopping, an important centre for education, culture and entertainment, and the heart and soul of the city region.
Consequently it is also the hub of a substantial radial transport system that enables the second-highest rates of public transport use in Australia, ahead of Melbourne.
Progressively also, our city image has been more focused on the central part of the city, located spectacularly in a loop of the Brisbane River. Our iconic view of Brisbane is looking over the river to the Brisbane CBD from the Kangaroo Point cliffs.
Pedestrian and bike paths built along the river, the CityCat system, riverside housing redevelopment, restaurants and new bridges, have also helped change common perceptions of the city by allowing us more opportunities to view both the river and the city from the river.
It may be tempting to suggest Brisbane should decentralise away from the flood-prone city centre, in terms of both commerce and housing.
But that is impossible. We are now, more than ever before, the River City. It is part of our essential character.
Indeed the emergence of Brisbane as a more sophisticated city has coincided with its embrace of the Brisbane River, physically and psychologically.
The creators of "new economy" jobs that Brisbane wants will demand to locate them in the most attractive and dynamic part of the city, around the city loop of the Brisbane River.
The discourse about flooding in the River City must continue.
It may be that the development levels we have been working to need to be reviewed. However, it is doubtful that we should make fundamental changes to our approach to the development of Brisbane.
* Jeff Humphreys is a Brisbane-based town planning consultant of 30 years and is Adjunct Professor of Planning at the University of Queensland.