Should Brisbane City be more like New York City?

Australia’s biggest cities, including Brisbane City, are expected to grow to a similar size as New York City by 2050. Urbanists* have warned that unless the Brisbane City town planning model starts to prioritise density, we could be in a bit of a pickle!


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What’s wrong with Brisbane City’s current town planning model?

Urbanist Professor Greg Clark wrote a paper for the Property Council of Australia in May 2018 that reported Brisbane City was failing to densify. Out of the eight capital cities around Australia, Brisbane is currently the third least dense at 145 people per square kilometre. Compare this to Sydney and Melbourne (3rd and 1st respectively) – 400 and 453 people per square kilometre.

In essence, this means that Brisbane City is pursuing a town planning model that provides low-amenity and poor infrastructure. This results in decreased affordability and connectivity as our land use becomes less and less efficient.

Professor Clark pointed out that under the current model, residents are being forced to the Brisbane city fringes to find affordable housing and there’s no plan in place to alleviate this. On top of this, we’re also seeing increasing congestion and journey times, and decreasing physical connectivity.

To correct this Brisbane needs to look at other cities, such as New York or Toronto, who benefit from lower governance fragmentation and have more established and better resourced metropolitan institutions.

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New York is dense but connected

Why is NYC a good model for Brisbane City?

New York City government and private business tend to work together to create connected but affordable housing. They also encourage development and revitalisation (e.g. with a mature built-for-rent market). These large-scale development projects are transforming industrial areas into new neighbourhoods with business and retails hubs. One of these projects is the Hudson Yards which began in 2013. It is the largest private real estate development in US history and will have a substantial impact on the New York City economy when complete. For example, once fully operational, the development is set to contribute around $19 billion per year to New York City’s GDP and to bring over 55,000 direct jobs to the neighbourhood. Overall, Hudson Yards will include more than 18 million square feet of commercial and residential space (including affordable housing), more than 100 shops, a collection of restaurants, a new public school, and 14 acres of public open space. Hudson Yards is the fulfilment of a remarkable collaboration between residents, developers, planners, designers, businesses, and government officials to improve city amenity and infrastructure for all.

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Hudson Yards Masterplan

How can Brisbane City model this approach?

After all of the negative reports on apartment developments, most local councils and even the State Government now take an oppositional stance towards larger-scale developments. However, we need to change this. Brisbane’s town planners and government officials need to have an open-minded view for Brisbane’s future. As Professor Clark says, “We need to be able to persuade people that the quarter-acre block is not the only way to enjoy suburban life.” Instead, we need to focus on multiple ways of living. One way to do this is via place-making. And it is something we need to do more of.


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Density doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Here’s how:

Place-making involves taking a site and creating something special so people see it as a place. A local example of place-making is Gasworks Plaza in Newstead. Taking an empty industrial site dominated by a redundant gasworks and making a really amazing place that has become a destination for Brisbane both to live and to visit. The mix of residential, commercial, and retail is becoming an attractive factor for Brisbane City residents as they increasingly desire to live in highly developed and high-amenity clusters.  Of course, there will also be a diversity in taste and some will continue to want to live on a quarter-acre block. But, the majority are starting to move away from this lifestyle dream. So isn’t it time the town planning model moved with us towards the new Aussie dream?


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*An advocate of or expert in city planning (e.g. Professor Greg Clark).

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Should Brisbane City be more like New York City?