Imagining Brisbane in 2027

Sunday, 3rd Sep 2017

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Imagining Brisbane in 2027

Brisbane is embarking on a transformative decade of economic and social change that will see it step out of the shadow of Sydney and Melbourne and establish itself as one of Australia’s 21st Century business and cultural hubs.

In his new report Imagining Brisbane in 2027, leading Australian demographer Bernard Salt predicts the next 10 years will see the evolution of a more sophisticated Brisbane as it closes the gap with its southern counterparts in terms of scale, lifestyle, and culture.

Mr Salt says Brisbane is steadily and determinedly elbowing its way into the cosy coterie of the Sydney-Melbourne nexus.

“No longer will it seem that Sydney and Melbourne operate as the only portals through which the Australian economy connects with the rest of the world," Mr Salt said.

“Sydney and Melbourne will still be important, still the dominant cities by 2027, but their primacy will be lessened by the rise of Brisbane.”

His report says that evolution will be driven by significant population growth, economic shifts that are changing the nature of work, and social changes.

It will bring about urban transformation with an increase in residential density within a 3km radius of Brisbane’s CBD and the emergence of ‘knowledge work clusters’ in and around the city centre.

Mr Salt describes Brisbane’s inner urban footprint as ripe for residential density but that its inner-city lifestyle has a lot of ground to make up to close the gap with the kind of lifestyle on offer in similar parts of Sydney and Melbourne.

The rise of knowledge (or tertiary-educated) worker communities such as West End, Fortitude Valley, and New Farm and the demise of suburban manufacturing are also predicted to accelerate the demand for inner-city living. Corporate and other knowledge workers are increasingly seeking the proximity and amenity of the inner city over the space and distance of suburbia.

The Y Generation, now aged 18 to 35, have continued the Xer trend of pursuing further education and of postponing having children. These two trends quite naturally lead Millennials to the pursuit of city-based knowledge work and to apartment, as opposed to suburban, living.

This movement in Australia is exemplified in places like Sydney’s Newtown and Melbourne’s Fitzroy, and increasingly in Brisbane’s Boundary Street Precinct. Mr Salt argues these areas all offer access not just to CBD and CBD-fringe knowledge worker jobs but also to employment options in Australia’s leading health and education institutions.

Inner Brisbane’s urban landscape is already responding, evolving from industrial to mixed-use residential precincts as developers tap into the economic and social shifts drawing people closer to the city’s key employment and cultural hubs.

Leading developer Sekisui House is anticipating the evolution of the Boundary Street Precinct in West End with its $800 million West Village development on a 2.6-hectare site that takes in the former Peters Ice Cream Factory.

Designed around the factory and another heritage-listed building, West Village will comprise seven contemporary apartment buildings set amid green space, vibrant laneways, various retail offerings, cafes, and art galleries and just 1.1 kilometres from the CBD.

The West Village masterplan involves the creation of a vibrant, attractive, and sustainable inner-city neighbourhood for people wishing to live on the doorstep of the CBD, close to their work commitments and leisure pursuits.

West Village project director Andrew Thompson says the development is responding to West End’s transition from a student enclave to a knowledge worker community, which is hastening the gentrification of the Boundary Street Precinct.

“By sustainably blending residential with retail, leisure, and cultural space, West Village will make the concept of inner-city living a more liveable reality," Mr Thompson said.

Mr Salt’s report forecasts that the population of the Boundary Street Precinct - taking in West End, South Brisbane, and Highgate Hill – will grow by 75 percent or 18,500 people during the coming decade, well outpacing Greater Brisbane’s projected population growth of 19 percent.

It is understandable given the area’s job-rich environment, with 2011 Census figures showing inner Brisbane was home to 271,000 jobs, including 30,000 positions alone in the Boundary Street Precinct.

Those figures reflected a growth rate of 15 percent on 2006, or 7,000 new jobs added each year to inner Brisbane between the Census years.

Today, the precinct is within a 3 kilometre radius of 10 university campuses, 11 hospitals, South Bank, state government offices, the casino, and Queensland Parliament.

Mr Salt says over half the workforce living in the Boundary Street Precinct in 2011 were knowledge workers. This proportion was 14 percent higher than the proportion for Greater Brisbane.

“There is something predictable about the Boundary Street Precinct workforce," he said.

“Here is a worker community that aligns culturally with knowledge-worker precincts located close to the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne.

“Here is a precinct that fits between the South Bank student hub, the cultural and arts hub, and the CBD.

“The Boundary Street Precinct is transitioning into a community with similar demographic characteristics as those within Melbourne’s Fitzroy and Sydney’s Newtown.”

Those characteristics include higher rates of tertiary education, professional employment, high and very high incomes, renters, and single-person and group households.

Mr Thompson said West Village would help to meet the growing housing needs of the Boundary Street Precinct as more jobs and people gravitated to the city’s centre.

“West Village will evolve and grow with West End as the area becomes home to thousands of new residents,” Mr Thompson said.

“It will be a lifestyle residential precinct with retail, recreational, cultural and heritage aspects that will blend with the unique character and spirit of the surrounding community rather than impose itself upon it.

“This will be done in a sustainable and thoughtful way and already includes initiatives like our artist-in-residence program and the car sharing service that have recently launched within the project. Mr Thompson said the project’s sought-after location would encourage the use of public transport and pedestrian activity.  West Village is within walking distance of major job, cultural and transport hubs like South Bank and the CBD means the area’s growing population will be less reliant on cars and more likely to lead active and engaged lifestyles. This will also have positive environmental impact in terms of reducing traffic congestion and air and noise pollution.”

In the report, Mr Salt also suggests another factor set to drive the River City’s population rise and urban evolution over the coming decade is the widening housing affordability gap between Brisbane and Sydney.

He bases this on the theory that South East Queensland generally benefits from any peak in Sydney house prices with Sydneysiders cashing in on high prices and moving north to buy a better property more cheaply.

“There is a widening gap between house and apartment prices in Sydney and in Brisbane,” he says.

“This gap has now widened to more than $500,000 in median house prices and to $300,000 in median apartment prices.

“The argument is that over time, and especially as the baby boomer segment retires, one strategy will be to cash-in Sydney property to move north.

“That movement is not yet showing up in interstate migration movements.

“However, logically it would seem to be only a matter of time before this movement gets under way and helps drive the urban transformation of Brisbane, and the demand for lifestyle property on the Gold and Sunshine coasts.”

So how does Mr Salt envisage the Brisbane of 2027?

Fast-forward a decade and he sees a city of close to three million people with an airport, together with those on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and in Toowoomba, offering direct flight connectivity to 40 global cities, many second-tier cities in mainland China.

The completed Cross River Rail project is delivering fluidity to the inner city and city centre while the Queen’s Wharf casino is an entertainment and lifestyle hub for the region.

The city centre workforce has blossomed and is now burgeoning with start-ups and small business activity that fizzes and spills into neighbouring suburbs. The tourist precinct of South Bank delivers Brisbane a round-the-clock culture that is hard to imagine was never always there.

The whole of the inner city, stretching between West End, Woolloongabba and Teneriffe is activated by an eclectic community of workers, corporates, entrepreneurs, visitors, and students.

New projects are being conceptualised by new governments eager to improve the city and further close the gap with Sydney and Melbourne.

And there’s been an attitudinal shift based on the confidence that Brisbane is a stable and socially cohesive place of prosperity and culture.

“Young Brisbanites no longer automatically shuffle off to Sydney and Melbourne after university but instead invest their youth and their energy in the city of their youth or of their adoption,” Mr Salt suggests.

“By 2027 Brisbane, Australia has all the bits and pieces you would expect of a sophisticated large city in the developed world.

“There’s signature events and big-picture pieces of infrastructure.

“There’s a creative energy and hip and sophisticated drive, global connectivity and an expectation about the future.”