Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

FORUM | Brisbane Economic and Cultural Development

We recently attended the Lord Mayor’s Economic Development Forum in the CBD, one of three forums held across the city to engage business and economic development interests. The intent of the forum was to garner some ideas ‘to do something right now to engender new opportunities’. While we understand there are major issues facing Brisbane, we tend to think that small, local, quick and light responses can sometimes have great impact and break a vicious cycle, even just lift the spirits of citizens, businesses and communities. A need to address city identity and branding was also noted and this raised some questions about whether the city needed an icon. There was emphasis of the resources sector (including Brisbane as a FIFO hub) and professional services with the revelation from Deloitte that Queensland has chalked up $100 billion worth of projects. Mention was made about the need to attract and retain professionals (let’s not keep saying ‘young professionals’) in order to support the aspiration/vision for a diverse and energised global city. The Lord Mayor also expressed a goal of generating a spirit of confidence, hope and opportunity.

The discussion was broad and several statements stood out as giving clear indications of the perceived personality and identity of the city:

  • The city does not need a built icon. It’s identity is founded on the river – the river is the city’s icon and should be the centre of events, recreation and cultural life.
  • Brisbane is a ‘city of villages’ and that needs to be embraced (might need to rethink the approach to suburban development and neighbourhood planning to promote village life)
  • Need to promote Brisbane’s brand – city also needs to ‘walk the talk’ of world city and improve intergovernmental cooperation to promote the city
  • Brisbane is a private enterprise city with significant presence of small and family owned businesses – we shouldn’t ignore this in an effort to become a ‘corporate city’; celebrate home grown entrepreneurship rather than become overly identified with and reliant on the resources sector
  • City needs more and diverse events – keep visitors in town for longer; engage residents, grow local culture. City needs a cultural tourism strategy. It also needs a cultural plan (this has not been renewed for a few years). Perhaps the city warrants a different kind of cultural plan.
  • City should include the suburbs in its identity and planning i.e. FIFO hub (people live in suburbs and need to access airport), promote localities and active centres, ensure engagement. Need to understand the suburbs and what’s going on across the whole city, particularly recognise changing demographics and ethnic profiles in communities to promote multiculturalism recognise our cultural diversity as an asset (e.g. Sunnybank is one of the most dynamic Asian hubs in the city)
  • Recognition that a city is its people and citizens should be engaged in promoting the city and energising the city
  • Interesting comment about the Trade Coast not having a sense of place with poor urban design and amenity; difficult for workers to access and move through (i.e. staff didn’t like going there and didn’t want to remain working there)

The table discussion we participated in addressed a broad range of ideas and experiences. There were two people working in enterprise – one from an engineering firm and the other was a restaurateur (+ us as private consultants/Linda as a member of RDA Brisbane) – who spoke of their challenges in recruitment. Others at the table were directly involved in incubating innovation and economic development. A report is due from Brisbane Marketing that will collate the findings from the consultations to deliver strategy to Council in the near future.

The topic of culture – identity, values, arts, events, lifestyle, digital culture – emerged strongly in this forum. Economic and cultural development are two sides of the same coin, important elements of urbanism and city making. There’s more to this than ‘liveability’. There’s more to this than ‘liveability’There was a focus on the under-development of this aspect of Brisbane’s offer, particularly in terms of attracting and holding tourists. As cultural planners, we were heartened to hear this. The city probably cannot cultivate a New York or London – even Melbourne – cultural life with a population of 1 million people and a smattering/reducing number of cultural resources centred on small areas and facilities in the CBD and a single city-centric local authority. That said, we can do things that arise from and leverage our own dynamic culture, events, environment and institutions. Our view is that the city could try being more adventurous in the way it thinks about and enables these opportunities.

While we were heartened by the interest in cultural events, we were concerned that there was a view that such things could be grown out of an underfunded/underresourced/shrinking cultural sector. If the conditions for cultural growth were enhanced, if the cultural sector grew and if the sector/industry was well supported then the cultural opportunities and offer could grow: this doesn’t necessarily need to continue in the manner of subsidy and patronage, and there are cultural economy issues that will need to be addressed in this equation.

Never being one to miss an opportunity, however, we spruiked the idea of a gaming festival (e.g. Come out of Play in New York/USA is a good example) which encourages engagement with games and devices that make use of GIS (e.g. geocaching, locative gaming, digital narratives). There was potential to link this to emerging precincts like the RNA redevelopment and changing environments of the city rather than bury them at fortress Kelvin Grove. Gaming is an important and dynamic aspect of digital culture that can engage urban space, art, mapping and movement and that can connect the city to the world (e.g. the massive alternate reality game World Without Oil).

If the recent Supernova Expo was anything to go by, there is some serious play happening in this city (when CosPlay happens in the Aspley Hypermarket, you know a major cultural shift has happened). There is a view that creative industries is one of Brisbane’s strengths (with notable research and production facilities) and we do need to recognise that more people work at McDonalds and the tourism industry than in the resources sector. Something like gaming cuts through the artificial divides of research, discipline, market, art and practice.

Having mentioned World Without Oil, we’d like to see a broader engagement with the shape, future, reconnecting and planning of the city through gaming – e.g. the London Festival of Mapping – where the city itself is moved and recognises its relational capital across the whole city not just the privileged inner city.  Maybe the city of Brisbane is just one big alternate reality game through which we can learn more about the challenges and opportunities that are emerging. The digital culture/mixed reality opportunities certainly need some exploration either as part of the city’s digital strategy and/or as part of its cultural plan.


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