“Subtropical Design in South East Queensland: A Handbook for Planners, Developers and Decision Makers”, recently released by the Centre for Subtropical Design at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), provides a well researched and timely step toward the realisation of sustainable subtropical development. The publication investigates the 12 principles for subtropical design set out in the SEQ Regional Plan 2009-2031, regional policy 8: compact settlement.
The handbook demonstrates a range of ‘placebased strategies’, relating to the 12 principles, that are specific to SEQ and its sub-regions and provides insights into how subtropical culture can be maintained during urban intensification. Specifically, the handbook explores the following, perhaps less widely understood, aspects of subtropical design:
- the importance of climatically responsive design and micro-climatic conditions within medium to high density areas as well as at a neighbourhood level
- the importance of local character, and the role that vegetation and green space has in subtropical urban areas
- a focus on the use of outdoor spaces and blurring the boundary between the ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ spaces of subtropical cities
- maximising the value and provision of green space through the thoughtful use of vegetation, clever use of space and the optimal orientation of streets and development blocks.
Implementation of subtropical urbanism
With the handbook as a guide, the challenge of realising subtropical urbanism remains. Two broad methods of implementation are evident: enforcement, through government control and regulation; and incentive, requiring a shift in market trends and cultural awareness.
Subtropical outcomes by enforcement – It seems obvious, especially due to the direct link to the regional plan, that some level of government enforcement may be required to deliver the principles contained in the handbook. A code-based controlling mechanism will need careful consideration to ensure it does not stifle the innovation in thinking required to achieve great subtropical design outcomes. In any case, and in keeping with the ‘place specific’ approach intrinsic to the handbook, any future policy is probably best delivered through local planning instruments.
Also of note are the challenges associated with the Building Code of Australia which, in broad terms, does not allow for the flexibility needed to deliver locally responsive design outcomes.
Subtropical outcomes by incentive – Publicising the substantial benefits that exist in adopting subtropical design approaches – with an emphasis on the obvious liveability, amenity, value, and energy efficiency benefits – is the first step in generating wider support for subtropical urbanism. The challenge is that in order to achieve a much deeper acceptance in the market, more measurable data that quantifies the relative costs and benefits is required. This could perhaps be achieved by building exemplar projects, or through the development of a subtropical design rating tool.
The Centre for Subtropical Design, and in particular Rosemary Kennedy, should be congratulated for their ongoing perseverance in this important area of education and research. The Handbook is a major milestone for design in the region. The handbook can be viewed online at www.subtropicaldesign.org.au or can be purchased at the QUT bookshop.