The Scenic Rim region is about an hour south of Brisbane, inland from the Gold Coast. It is characterised by farms and forests, small towns and townships, and is cradled by mountain ranges on three sides. Hence the name, Scenic Rim. Included is the famous Lamington National Park, part of a world heritage listed rainforest and on a chain of mountains forming the border with New South Wales. The main towns in the region are Boonah in the west, the administrative centre Beaudesert, and a tree change suburban community at Tambourine Mountain to the east. Scenic Rim Regional Council has administered this area since changes to local government boundaries in 2008.
The town of Beaudesert has been a service centre for more than a century. Despite its proximity to South East Queensland’s three million people, it’s still relatively tiny. The town has only 6,000 or so residents, out of about 40,000 in the 4,000km2 region. But like the greater SEQ region around it, a good deal of planning is going on to manage expected growth in residents and jobs.
I spent much of the last six months working with the council’s small planning team on their local and strategic planning program. So what does urban design mean for a near metropolitan but still rural region with a small population?
I was fortunate to work on a local planning project for one of the region’s townships. There’s some way to go in the process so I won’t be too specific about proposals, but it has been a real pleasure to work closely with a small and diverse community comprising old farming dynasties, business people, tree changers and suburban families. Together they are keeping this busy little place very much alive.
Growth, but keeping special character Like many local governments that I know of, the general brief seems to be: ‘yes we need some growth but we want to keep our special character’. And like most Queensland towns and villages, there is a rich though often uncelebrated planning and design history in the Scenic Rim’s towns. The older areas often boast fantastic leafy streets with Queenslander cottages, constructed of ‘tin and timber’ and raised above the ground to deal with the slope, climate and termites. This must have been (or maybe still is) a pious region because there’s a host of beautiful wooden churches all around the streets. The principal streets through the villages are buzzing with local and tourist activity. The buildings and the public realm haven’t seen a lot of attention over the years, and this is a likely area for design focus, but the setting and the mixed-use activity provides a great foundation. These are popular, well loved places.
The newer areas that I visited – particularly residential areas – are less remarkable, in my view anyway. Brick and tile, slab on ground suburban housing dominates. The streets are so-so and, predictably, are designed for traffic first. There’s not so many trees and greenery (yet). Unsurprisingly when you think about it, the new suburbs looks much like new suburbs all across Queensland, Australia probably. So what about the ‘unique and special character’? One of the best things we did was to get out the measuring wheels and spend a morning on a ‘synoptic’ (fancy word for ‘general’) survey of the new and the old areas of the township I was working in. Similar to the process used in researching the Next Generation Planning handbook (see UDF 94), my council colleagues and I measured the physical form of the neighbourhoods, streets, lots and buildings. No spectacular discoveries here, but when we’re talking ‘character’ we’re often talking about space between buildings, height, scale and bulk, trees. It’s good to have some local evidence to hand when applying this ‘character’ thing to the planning and design rules that might just help deliver on the promise of ‘good growth’.
I ended my contract one day before the Queensland local government elections. A new planning scheme is in the wind for the Scenic Rim – the first since the present council boundaries were established. Maybe the whole ‘character’ thing is pushing up the proverbial hill – don’t built up areas look more of their time than of their place? But I’m sure the Scenic Rim will be thinking about its country and built heritage when it comes to shaping its towns, centres and suburbs of the future.