Brisbane: country town to metropolis

From what was once a ‘country town’, blighted by sprawl and urban decay, Brisbane has over the last 20 years been transformed into a culturally vibrant metropolis. Graham Quirk, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane talks about reactivating the river, tackling congestion and focusing on the city centre.

Brisbane CBD
View of Brisbane’s CBD from the west featuring Council’s new Go Between Bridge and world famous CityCat in the foreground © Brisbane City Council

According to Lord Mayor Quirk, the Brisbane City Council’s urban renewal initiative is “the longest running programme of its type in Australia”. The impact of this effort is evident. Rundown industrial areas like the Fortitude Valley and Teneriffe and the city’s neglected riverfront have been reactivated into thriving urban communities. Burnett Lane, Market Street and Jacobs Ladder have been revitalised, adding greater buzz to the city centre. “Over the last 20 years, AUD$8.75 billion had been directly invested into inner Brisbane, resulting in 14 hectares of new parkland and an extra 4.5 kilometres in public access to the Brisbane River,” says Quirk.

River revival
One of Brisbane’s key urban renewal strategies is the revival of its waterfront, the river being one of the major assets. Residents have developed a strong relationship with the river: more than 73,000 volunteers helped to clean up after floods in January 2011, the city’s worst natural disaster in 100 years. Beyond introducing extensive recreational facilities to encourage more waterfront activities, Mayor Quirk adds: “The Council is continuing to work on rebuilding the parts of the walkways that were damaged in the 2011 floods as well as revitalising Howard Smith Wharves. A number of new City Cat terminals are also being planned. The overall idea is to provide residents of Brisbane with better access to their river.”

Easing congestion
A major challenge for Brisbane is traffic congestion. In 2005, Brisbane was predicted to become Australia’s most congested city within a decade. Mayor Quirk acknowledges that the city’s growth as the employment centre for the region and the population growth in the areas surrounding Brisbane are placing pressures on its transport networks. The Council is proactively responding to this with the Transport Plan 2008-2026, a blueprint for the development of all modes of transport for the future.

On public transport, Quirk says: “We have been significantly expanding public transport capacity through a record purchase of 500 buses over the last four years. This has resulted in a spectacular growth in ridership with an increase of 63% since 2004. We are also noticing a slight shift towards a greater market share in public transport.” To address the lack of an inner ring road, the Council has launched TransApex, a system of tolled tunnels to divert traffic out of the inner city.

To further ease congestion, Quirk feels that walking and cycling can play greater roles. He elaborates: “By 2026, one in five trips in Brisbane will be by walking or cycling. In the last four years, we have spent AUD$100 million on building our bikeway network. In the next four years, we are investing another AUD$120 million to focus on commuter cycling and better access to enable the shorter trips to suburban centres to be made by walking and cycling. This will also ease some of the localised congestion in our neighbourhoods as well as enable more healthy lifestyles for residents.”

Brisbane CBD
Brisbane © Brisbane City Council

City centre growth
So what’s next? Mayor Quirk’s focus is on the city centre: “The city is growing rapidly and no location is more pivotal to our future prosperity and vibrancy then the city centre. Brisbane’s city centre is the heart of our economy, culture and transport systems. The Council is planning for this growth, promoting high quality design, coordinating transport and investing in our public spaces and laneways. We want Brisbane to be an ambitious city, with a growing economy, exciting street life, great buildings and memorable cultural experiences.”

Already, more than 2,039,600sqm of office space has been constructed in the city centre. Inner-city economies have been revived in over 12 neighbourhoods, supported by the spurt of office and retail development. Residents have streamed back into the inner city. Rejuvenated neighbourhood centres have re-ignited the sense of community and provide basic amenities within walking distance.

Indeed, Brisbane’s transformation over the years demonstrates the power of urban transformation as a vanguard for economic transition, cultural renaissance and the creation of sustainable communities. From a city primarily driven by population growth, it has now become a global mining and energy resource hub. Quirk attributes this success partly to the Council’s “commitment to delivering infrastructure investment that has been sustained through the global financial crisis”. O

This article was first published in November 2012. All images contained within this page are used with license and shall not be copied, modified, or reproduced.


Graham Quirk

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk is dedicated to making Brisbane a smart thinking, easy living, world-class city. His top priorities as Lord Mayor include boosting economic development, tackling traffic congestion, improving public transport, enhancing the environment and continuing with the city’s flood recovery process. Cr Quirk was elected Lord Mayor by the Council on 7 April 2011 following the resignation of Campbell Newman. He entered the Council when elected as Councillor for Rochedale Ward in 1985. Brisbane City Council is the largest local council in Australia. It covers 1,220 square kilometres, spanning the Brisbane River in radius of up to 25 kilometres from the Central Business District.