Twenty minutes south of the Brisbane CBD, you’ll find the City of Logan. Likely unknown to most outside South East Queensland, it’s strategically nestled between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. From an outsider looking in, it’s an optimum location.
It’s well known by most within the region, but likely for the wrong reasons. You see, Logan’s got history. Baggage might be the more appropriate description. This baggage is filled with past perceptions, and realities, of a community struggling for prosperity, of low socioeconomic status, and conditions that perpetuated this status. But that’s history, as they say.
Last month, mayor Luke Smith silenced that history by releasing a bold vision for one of the city’s major centres – Springwood. A vision that redefines “big”.
“My commitment to our community when taking office was to change the perception of Logan, and place it in a position of future forward,” Mr Smith said recently.
The mayor’s vision for Springwood was presented at The Springwood Summit, a gathering of almost 200 practitioners, policymakers, businesses and community representatives. It was at this summit that the vision was unveiled, for Springwood to become the region’s second central business district, surrounded by a network of green space, and built around the notion of place-led investment and collaborative governance.
The summit featured a range of local and national experts across the areas of property economics, place making, mobility, financing, governance, and smart cities. Each speaker and panellist shared their recommendations to the audience, in an open forum where politicians, bureaucrats, developers, local businesses, the community and industry associations gathered.
It wasn’t a conference, nor was it a workshop. A publicly open mentoring session, maybe? Probably more like a co-design process. With glimpses into what’s possible, rather than what’s happening. The spark that might fire an opportunity – a private investor now with the confidence, or a community-led initiative primed for launch. Regardless of the opportunity, Mr Smith’s vision has sent the signal that council is ready to co-create opportunities.
And this vision for Springwood doesn’t disappoint. Reclaiming space over a national highway for open space. Highway service roads becoming smart boulevards. Warehouses converted into creative spaces. This is a hub for start-ups, ideas factories big and small. This vision is more of a new world district than an old town centre. It’s a case of go bold or go home!
But beyond these big words, and aspirations, you’ll find another interesting transformation – that of the council itself.
You see, the purpose of The Springwood Summit was to bring together urban leaders to help contribute to the city’s aspirations of transitioning from a “project-led” investment mindset, to one of “place-led”, which is supported by a deep commitment to collaboration with business, investors, practitioners and the community. This includes an active silo busting agenda, and scrubbing out the politics of planning we are so used to, by including deep commitment from key stakeholders outside of the city bureaucracy.
And Springwood’s story is like so many around the nation, an aspiration to unlock the latent economic potential of similar centres, these hubs, these hearts. It starts with creating places that are affordable, diverse, inclusive and safe. Like Springwood, many are seeking to adapt and develop creative spaces where people can meet and make, live and work, sell and trade.
The summit provided vignettes of case studies from across the world, others who had tried, and succeeded, but those who had equally learned lessons. International exemplars from Atlanta to Portland, Washington DC to Ottawa were presented. There was peer exchange with the City of Canning in Western Australia, and Melbourne and Canberra, where similar struggles have been overcome.
And if the vision for Springwood is not big enough, it’s just the start. Using Springwood as a pilot, the council plans to advance this process in its other three major centres – Logan Central, Meadowbrook and Beenleigh.
The Springwood pilot is set to go deep into a collaborative governance process, where trust is at the centre, and the council is prepared to, simply, let go, something rarely seen in todays hyper-politicised planning environment. It is not out of the question that the zoning, rules and regulations go out the window as well. Breaking old rules for a new future was an obvious opportunity identified by many at the summit. And keeping it real, making sure the vision is bold, but right-sized for Springwood.
The Springwood blueprint – place-led investment through collaborative governance – is a model to watch. It’s one that has so many opportunities for replication, and scaling, across the country. But the process alone isn’t enough, unfortunately. A curious and willing corporate culture within government leadership is required. Like in Logan’s case, there is an appetite from within that change is essential, and they have nothing to lose in trying. But if you are going to try, try big, and try bold!
Adam Beck is executive director of Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand.