City of the north

One from the archives:

Today’s review is of Townsville. I’m waiting at the airport there to return home after a couple of days training about the new planning scheme. It’s the biggest city in Queensland outside the south east corner and close in population to Hobart.

It’s an interesting study in how the fluctuations and perceptions of cities change over time. I first started visiting here as a planner in the 1980s. Then it tended to live in the shadow of its more glamorous northern neighbour, Cairns, which has a much more lush tropical climate, and at that time was riding the tourism and oversea investment boom. In contrast, Townsville was seen as something of a government town, with an economy underpinned by defence and government offices, and seen as a bit hot, dry and relatively staid and less interesting and engaging.

Cairns still enjoys a wonderful setting, and some great development from its boom times, but has struggled economically after the GFC and tourism slow down. Its two major industries, tourism and construction are still in the relative doldrums, although there are some real efforts underway to change that.

In the meantime, Townsville has come of age. An act of nature that destroyed much of its waterfront Strand area led to major redevelopment that created a wonderful waterfront. Then came the mining boom, and Townsville with its major port facilities at the end of the railway to Mount Isa performs an important strategic role in this industry. Its traditional roles are still there, so it really functions as the “capital” of north Queensland, a strategic defence base for Australia, and a major regional airport.

The council has led a major push to up the ante in terms of urban quality, leading from the front in reopening the previously daggy Flinders Mall to controlled traffic, and revitalising the city centre. Its now an interesting city, with a range of urban precincts all with their own character and vitality – Palmer Street, the Strand, Flinders Street, etc. it’s still dry, but there has been a concerted effort to green the city, and its iconic landscape with flat plains dominated visually by the striking features of Castle Hill and Mt Stuart, Cape Pallarendra etc, its waterfront, the rediscovered relationship with both the Ross River and Ross Creek, are all lending a hand to its urbanity.

The new planning scheme will really reinforce this – drawing a line on greenfield development, a focus on targeted infill to reinforce centres of urban quality, and setting up the land use pattern to support future alternatives to the car to get around.

So I reckon it is a new era for Townsville. It’s time has come. The challenge is to make the most of this opportunity and its seems to me to be well underway to do that.


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