Is This the Most Exciting Vision for Urban Renewal in Australia?


Contributed by Adam Di Marco, founder and publisher of The Urban Developer

OK – here I go again, I'm going to put it out there loud and clear: the Fortitude Valley precinct on the northern fringe of Brisbane's CBD is the most exciting urban renewal opportunity in Australia! Full stop.

Before everyone chops me down, let me start by breaking down the logic that underwrites this idea.

A lifetime of living, working, playing and building in the Valley

For the last 32 years, my life has been inextricably linked to the fortunes of Fortitude Valley.

When my grandparents first arrived in Australia in the 1950s from war-torn Italy, they were warmly welcomed into the arms of the Valley's multicultural community.

When my parents were my age, they were actively involved in the glory days of the Valley's live music scene.

My first property job was in Berwick Street working for a company called Mofo Group!

After a short stint overseas cut short by the global financial crisis, I was lucky enough to score a job with Leighton Properties working on a development that was to become "Mosaic" – a mixed-use project located at the crossroads of the emerging James Street precinct and the traditional Fortitude Valley heart.

When we launched The Urban Developer, we "couch-surfed" in my sister's art studios on Brunswick Street, followed by a stint in a co-working hub called Little Tokyo Two, before jumping across the block to Constance Street.

We now call James Street home to our new HQ!

Beyond all of this, I have lived the past decade of my life in the Valley and spent far too many nights (and dollars!) enjoying the best the Valley nightlife has to offer.

So, why does this all matter?

Having lived, worked, played and been directly involved in the development of the Valley precinct for nearly two decades, it has become clear to me that this important part of Brisbane's history is about to breakthrough to become a very important part of Brisbane's future.

A history of constant change and an enthusiasm to rebel and renew

Enticed by the promise of free land grants, a group of Scottish immigrants arrived on the banks of the Brisbane river in 1849 aboard the SS Fortitude.

Denied land, they camped in today’s Victoria Park, Herston before moving on to settle a suburb, naming it after the ship on which the arrived.

For almost 170 years, the Valley has continued to rebel against authority in pursuit of constant renewal.

Today, in the shadow of towers that mark the most recent chapter of Fortitude Valley's history, a renaissance is taking place and spreading from the top of the colourful Brunswick Street Mall to the laneways of James Street.

A Valley Vision that is designed and built from the ground up

Earlier this year, I was invited by the Valley Chamber of Commerce (VCC) to participate in an advisory panel that was charged with helping to establish a new Valley Vision.

While there is nothing new about a Valley Vision, what struck me was the approach.

Led by Alastair Leighton, cities director at AECOM, and Dai Gwynne-Jones, director at VCC, the renewed Valley Vision has taken a non-partisan approach that is more focused on enabling collaboration at all levels of government and private enterprise, rather than prescribing a particular approach.

The Valley Vision established five Guiding Principles that serve to steer practical outcomes:

  1. Global Precinct

  2. Distinctive Welcome

  3. Dynamic Culture

  4. Urban Comfort

  5. Easy Connections

Beyond the Guiding Principles, the vision outlines five Foundations or catalyst precincts that are critical to the next generation of the precinct. These include:

  1. The Valley Metro

  2. Fortitude Valley Education Hub

  3. Bridge Street Green Heart

  4. Story Bridge Park Gateway

  5. Centenary Park Gateway

The Valley Vision is certainly not a solution, but rather a strategic advocacy document that guides the future development of the precinct and shapes the future.

“A vision for the Valley is not a new thing. The list of significant Valley challenges has also been around for a while – with seemingly limited appetite for delivering the scale of change required to turn things around. This Valley Vision is different because it is not a conclusion but is intended as the launch pad for an ambitious and collaborative process that will turn shared ambition into transformational change”

As Alistair wisely conferred to me.

The next chapter – a collaborative process shaped by ambitious leadership

As a homegrown local, it's not necessarily in my interests to see the Fortitude Valley change.

But who cares about what I think? It's changing anyway.

In fact, the rate of change is accelerating. From major residential developments, hotels, music venues, new restaurants and office developments, the Valley is well on its way.

What we need to implement now is a bold plan: a vision that rises above politics and delivers transformational change to ensure the Valley grows into a world-class precinct that is a defining part of "Brand Brisbane".

With the spirit of the SS Fortitude, let's get behind this first step and support bold thinking, new ideas, disruptive technologies, inclusive public spaces, high-quality public realm, day and night-time economies, loveable streets, a welcoming culture.

And most importantly, embrace the inevitable change that this place will ultimately embrace.

For more details on the Valley Vision, you can read the document here.

Adam Di Marco is the founder and publisher of The Urban Developer.

He is also the managing director of Di Marco Group, a Brisbane-based boutique property development business and executive chairman of CityShape, a disruptive big-data start-up for the property industry.

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