1. What do you think are the most difficult challenges, contradictions and opportunities facing suburbs and their communities, or Aspley/your suburb and its community?
The lack of liveliness in the public realm in suburbs like Aspley is unfortunate. When I walk to the end of the street, I see a torrent of cars charging down Gympie Rd. When I drive 5 minutes down that road to Chermside, I see hordes of people swarming the aisles of the shopping centre, yet when I walk through the streets of the suburb, it is devoid of life. I previously tried to establish what I thought was the public heart of the suburb, the place where you were most likely to participate in the community. In my definition this is where you are likely to encounter the greatest density of people (greatest chance for community interaction) who are physically inhabiting a space within the community (as opposed to being inside an introverted shopping centre.) The best I could come up with was the corner of the footpath at the strip shop (at Brumby’s for those who are familiar). This is certainly not an occupiable space. If one was to identify an occupiable space, where you are in the community (where you can see the sky) where you will casually encounter the most people, perhaps the dingy bus stops on Gympie Rd would be the statistically most active public space, but once again, nobody would stop there unless they had to. For anyone who has travelled the world and seen alternate ways of living where there is a true communal life on offer, it is sad to think that these things are entirely achievable, yet there is no outcry that a bus stop is the closest we have to a community square. It is also possible for private dwellings to be done in a way which incorporates a component of interaction with the public realm, however with the council’s rules to force people away from the street with setbacks, and with a public and many designers unfamiliar with why and how you would want to create this possibility, most residential streets are inactive zones when it comes to communal life
2. How do you think these challenges and contradictions, particularly in relation to cultural and urban sustainability, can be addressed from your perspective or practice as an artist, strategist, designer or activist?
From a delivery point of view, it certainly is a challenge. Occupiers and developers are the people who initiate my projects as an architect, and unfortunately the portion of people who are actively pursuing these issues are tiny. Certainly nobody has ever approached me regarding these issues. A lot of time is needed pursuing the right people. It is remarkable how few people are saying ‘I want to do something that is going to make the community or city fantastic, that will be something people will look back on as a valued asset in 50 years time.’ Those who do are usually seduced by the machine of large commercial practices, whose inertia often delivers less than inspiring results. All one can do is take inspiration from projects that have managed to succeed and keep plugging away at it.
3. Are you already engaged in addressing those challenges and contradictions in some way? How are you doing that?
Based on my experiences so far, in the context of Aspley, I have little faith that the local authority or land owners are interested in my opinions. In comparison to the main issue above, there are other good causes that are less grand where I feel I have more chance of making an impact, so this is where I am currently giving my attention. For these causes, my best option is via self initiated ventures that at least put provocations into the public realm which challenge the status quo. There are a lot of worthy causes out there, but most seem to be a one way ticket to having no income, so there is an imperative to balance these with fee paying work which may not offer the same scope for enabling change.
4. What could an ‘enabling suburb’ look and feel like?
For me, an enabling suburb would be a place with an identity, which is engaging for the active occupant, and accommodating for the occupant who wishes to feel a sense of belonging.
5. Aspley, as our case study, is the first Brisbane site to be connected to the National Broadband Network meaning it will be connected to highspeed broadband. How do you think highspeed broadband and online technologies can be used to address challenges or realise opportunities?
While access to information has reshaped society for the better in a very short time, I am not certain how the next step into the NBN is going to affect our communities. The pluses will be greater the minuses, but I do see there are downsides. It is becoming more convenient to become less involved with our communities, and while we benefit from accessing likeminded people and specialized information and products online, this means we are asking our communities to contribute less to our lives. We can only hope that people can counterbalance the increasing part of their lives that happens online, with an increased visceral engagement in the local physical world.
6. What is one suggestion you have for harnessing or facilitating the kind of creativity or social innovation required to create ‘enabling suburbs’?
Every suburb needs a public social space that engages with the daily life of the suburb, which will assist with creating some sense of shared life within the community, and offer a venue for people to come together and build further community infrastructure.