Fagan: What do we do when the Olympic carpetbaggers roll into town? Say thanks and move on

The 2032 Games will lure the usual crowd of carpetbaggers to Brisbane over the next nine years, ready to do their part in telling us how to make this a world class city.

Mar 12, 2024, updated Mar 12, 2024
A pedestrian plaza would link a refurbished Gabba stadium to South Bank and the Cross River Rail network (Pic: Supplied)

A pedestrian plaza would link a refurbished Gabba stadium to South Bank and the Cross River Rail network (Pic: Supplied)

We should listen to their best ideas, say thank you very much but remind them of what has happened in this city over the past 40 years when it first achieved some global attention courtesy of the 1982 Commonwealth Games.

In fact, we should be exporting our expertise on how to modernise a city and equip it for population growth and lifestyle.

In Brisbane’s case, it started with the visionary (but necessary decision) in the late 70s to build a flood containment dam in the Brisbane Valley and to then move tens of kilometres of industrial wharves to the head of the river.

Those engineering and planning decisions underpinned the creation of Brisbane as a “river city”, one that floods less but now sees its river as a resource to be enjoyed and celebrated, not to be used as an industrial highway and feared each summer.

I’ve had the privilege of reporting and commenting on a lot of the progress of this city over that time. The gentrification of offices, retailing, leisure and housing around the city reaches of the river is the headline act which has changed our lifestyle and beautified the city – notwithstanding the temporary mess the CBD is currently in.

But there’s more.

  • In 40 years, we have:
  • Doubled the lanes of traffic crossing the river over three new bridges and a tunnel. Plus added two (soon to be four) pedestrian bridges. Who cares any more about whether you are northside or southside;
  •  Created a world class parkland in what used to be warehouses and boarding houses in South Brisbane and flanked it with the most integrated cultural complex in the country (two art galleries, a museum, a library and a performing arts centre with four separate theatres, a film school and a conservatorium);
  • Rebuilt two inner city sports stadiums (Suncorp and the Gabba);
  • Made public transport useable with the help of a network of bus tunnels, extended electric rail lines connecting with light rail to the south of the Gold Coast. And we’re a year away from opening a new urban rail spur (Cross River Rail) and the Brisbane Metro bus system;
  • Built a convention centre used almost weekly to host international conferences (including the leaders of the 20 largest economies at the G20 in 2014). The world’s largest hotel chains weren’t in Brisbane in the 80s. Now they’re all open for business in our city
  • Relocated the city’s airport then doubled its runway capacity;
  • Built a major new hospital (the Queensland Children’s Hospital) and supported other tertiary hospitals and universities with research spaces that attract scientists and medical researchers across the spectrum.
  • We’ve turned low-density housing into streets and streets of attractive medium-density housing in the 8km inner city circle.

We’ve managed this with homegrown drive and future-focussed governments AND without too much imported expertise on how to become a world class city.

There’s still more to do – and the Olympics and Paralympics are only part of the story.

We remain vulnerable to water shortages in extreme dry conditions but are loathe to consider what every other Olympic city has done by recycling and purifying water.

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We have a big task to convert our coal-fired energy system to renewables, particularly given the limited public appetite for even Small Modular (nuclear) Reactors (which, by the way, are the size of about 14 football fields or two Carindale shopping centres).

We have a growing crime problem which, in part, is due to failures in the education, child support and mental health systems. This is a universal problem but one we should aspire to overwhelm, not let overwhelm us.

Our economy needs diversification and more big private sector employers to reduce its reliance on government.
An inner-city enclosed entertainment venue capable of hosting the world’s biggest acts would be a 21st Century addition to the streets of our town.

And we have an Olympic and Paralympic Games to run, a few weeks of glory in 3000 or so days which we should rightly expect will create a legacy.

Right now, the biggest issue is where to place the Olympic Stadium. And the call with that sits with the former Lord Mayor Graham Quirk who knows the city backward, knows its capabilities and is an ultimate pragmatist.

Getting the job started is his priority but what if the legacy is simply that Brisbane exports its can-do approach to the many cities in the world that are bogged in old infrastructure and old thinking? That’s a legacy worth toasting – and one we already have a strong start on.

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