The Central Business District (CBD) is the beating heart of every good city. But for many smaller places this beat has become more of a murmur, as out-of-town malls suck the soul from pricier central locations. One city reversing this trend is Townsville in north Queensland, where locals have banded together to pump renewed vigour into a tropical city with serious potential.
Townsville’s busy port connects livestock and minerals to booming markets in Indonesia and China. It is also a popular tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and the universities that focus on this natural wonder have made the city a world leader in marine-science education. But what holds these assets together, says the port’s chairman Patrick Brady, is the charm of the lively CBD.
“If investors see a tired and rundown city they leave with a completely different mindset,” says Brady. Yet “tired” would have been an accurate description for Townsville’s CBD only 10 years ago. While many lamented another big Australian country town losing its character in the face of modernity, a task force of Townsville’s biggest property developers, plus the port authority and council, began cooking up a strategy for regeneration.
“The CBD task force brought all the parties together to create one voice and one plan we could lobby governments with,” says Townsville mayor Jenny Hill. “While we were only one voice, we were a very loud one.”
This led to a plan to revamp the area’s infrastructure, connecting the CBD to the port, while new developments began to transform the central district itself. One of the most dramatic additions to the area was City Lane, designed by Brisbane-based 26 Street. It joins together two of the neighbourhood’s busiest streets and is now home to a number of award-winning bars, restaurants and cafés.
“It’s like planting a seed and watching it grow,” says Rick McLaren from Lancini group, the developer behind City Lane. “Before we started I walked up and down the CBD at different times of the day and it was dead. Obviously it’s not yet a thriving metropolis but it’s getting there.”
Tate is the mayor leading Australia’s Gold Coast through preparations for the upcoming 2018 Commonwealth Games, while also making headway in a burgeoning Asian tourism market.
You speak many languages. Is this an asset for a mayor?
Language knowledge is one of the best assets in international business. To speak a language fluently you have to understand the people, the culture and the history behind it. I speak fluent Thai and understand the Southeast Asian mindset very well. I also speak Lao, understand Chinese and can reciteenough Russian to get into trouble when I’m there.
The Gold Coast’s economy is built on tourism. Tell us about your flight paths to China.
You can now fly directly from Wuhan to the Gold Coast and we have access to 80 million Chinese people. Chengdu is our next target and once you add those two populations together we’ll have 130 million people who can fly directly to the Gold Coast. Securing flight paths is the hard part; once people visit they tend to get bitten by the bug and come back and buy an investment property.
How do you build a city that works for both residents and tourists alike?
Transport is a key focus. I have basically thrown away the old town plan and we roll out a new one this year assuming our light-rail system will grow to connect the city. The higher density sits alongside the light rail; tourists will travel along it from the airport to their hotels and residents will ride it to get to work.
Smart housing solutions
Lautoka, Fiji’s second-largest city, faces similar housing issues to its counterparts in developing countries, with squatter slums on the outskirts prone to disease and poverty. Its tropical location also puts it in the path of hurricanes. For the past 30 years, Peter Drysdale has been coming up with a solution: his aid-funded “model town” Koroipita provides low-cost, hurricane-resistant living for “the poorest of the poor”.
“Land is too valuable on the edge of cities so we built a self-reliant community outside,” he says. “Because residents have land they are able to gear up vegetable production, creating a self-sufficient subdivision exporting value.”
Koroipita’s 231 timber and steel houses can withstand 350km/h winds and make for affordable homes for its residents. Drysdale is documenting the project so that it can be replicated across Lautoka’s fringes and further afield.
Lessons from the region
Australia’s largest city may have been just edged out by Melbourne in our rankings but it still has lots to teach its rivals.
- A city by the sea has to make the most of its beaches; Sydney does this in buckets and spades.
- A city with sun has to make pavements a feature. Outdoor seating here spills out of every café and bar.
- Trust your architects. City officials hated Jørn Utzon’s design for the Sydney Opera House. They don’t now.
- Use your most famous assets. The Opera House and Harbour Bridge are the backdrop for all major celebration.
- A ferry commute is a beautiful way to start your day.
bright idea to be copied
Sydney may be one of the world’s most beautiful cities but for those who can’t see it, it’s also becoming one of the most navigable. A new tactile signage network is part of an AU$8m (€5.7m) overhaul of the city’s pedestrian wayfinding system: more than 2,100 braille signs are being installed.
“This new system isn’t just about transport and navigation, it’s also about restoring dignity to people with a vision impairment or who are blind,” says Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore. The update forms the foundation for the most comprehensive braille and tactile sign system in Australia and potentially the world.