Future of Suburbia II

Event Location: Brisbane Club
13/11/2019 9:00 am

The Future of Suburbia II : Where the Jobs Are sought to explore recent trends in the geography of work, and to understand how the growth industries of the future will significantly change the traditional CBD centric employment model to one that is more suburban and regional in nature. It also sought to explore the factors driving suburban jobs and the various levers that property owners, developers, local councils and others could use to attract and retain suburban business centre employment.

The event was opened by Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner with a keynote from San Francisco based Jed Kolko – Chief Economist for Indeed Hiring Lab (Indeed.com are the world’s biggest online jobs marketplace). Two-panel discussions followed with robust discussion and no shortage of questions from the floor. Our notes on the conference are as follows:

The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor, Cr Adrian Schrinner, in his opening address noted how technology and disruption are quickly changing the way cities function. This he said supported the need for more flexibility in planning around city growth. The Lord Mayor, who earlier in the year announced a Better Suburbs Initiative, said that with the majority of population and jobs being outside the inner city, Brisbane City was the perfect place to undertake suburban renewal and demonstrate new approaches to planning and governance – especially given its very large jurisdiction. He said that the Urban Renewal Program that started in the inner north-eastern suburbs in the 1990s under Lord Mayor Jim Soorley and with Trevor Reddacliff showed that the city can be transformed most effectively without the need for cumbersome bureaucratic processes – a model he saw as relevant for suburban renewal under the Better Suburbs Initiative. The Lord Mayor also noted the transport challenges that Brisbane faces, and suggested that TODs are unlikely to be as big a game-changer as we may have been led to think.  He indicated that we should question how we should plan to move people around the city with most people living and working outside the inner urban core.  He saw suburban employment as having a major role to play in ensuring people’s ability to get to work in 20-30 minutes from home.

Jed Kolko from ‘Indeed’– the world’s largest online jobs site – noted the cross currents of employment trends, with structural economics favouring more inner-city growth but demographics and technology favouring more growth in the suburbs.  He also noted that while jobs cluster in particular locations for different reasons, the importance of the factors is changing with the restructuring of the economy.  The process of sorting that is underway will mean that inner-city and suburban jobs are increasingly differentiated, with the better-paid jobs in the inner city.  He said we need to be wary of inferring what people want from what people do, as the choice is constrained by prices, availability, taxes, subsidies and public investments.  He made a plea for higher-level regional planning to ensure effective integration of city and suburb.  Jed also noted that while TODs are normally thought of as housing around transit, it’s actually more important to have jobs on top of transit than housing.

Kerrianne Meulman from Urban Economics presented her recent research for the Suburban Alliance on ‘where the jobs are in SEQ’.  At 2016, 86.5% of workers in SEQ had their workplaces outside the inner city. Between 2006 and 2016, nearly 90% of all new jobs were created outside the inner city, fuelled by rapid growth on health and education employment.  The inner city is a more specialised job market, with the top 20 occupations accounting for 84.5% of all inner-city occupations but only 69.2% of SEQ occupations.

In the panel discussions that followed, author Peter Seamer suggested that current approaches to planning are based on incorrect assumptions about home and work locations and travel preferences. The ‘Marchetti Constant’ appears to apply as the average daily commute is approximately 65 mins for all workers, across the city.

Kate Meyrick from Studio THI outlined the key ingredients for the public realm with ‘place’ appeal: accessible, walkable, safe, good IT connectivity, diverse, lively, distinctive.  She noted that audacity is required to create ‘place’ in an empty site such as Springfield or the Petrie Mill.  Kate also noted that some of SEQ’s clusters could be globally significant, even though modest in scale, and cited our defence industries and biomedical as examples.  Occupations that benefit from face to face contact will still want to locate in dense locations with the opportunity for multiple encounters in a 400m radius.

Taku Hashimoto from Sekisui House suggested that mixed-use development in the suburbs requires accessibility, connection to lifestyle and labour availability.  He discussed the evolution of Ripley Town Centre as fundamental to creating a lifestyle that will attract residents; building it before they come, which can seem somewhat at odds with traditional commercial decisions.  Taku discussed how places to meet, recreate, access services need to be at the forefront of both new greenfield developments as well as mixed-use redevelopment opportunities, and synonymous with localised employment opportunities. Taku considers that either for a planned shopping centre like Ripley or an established suburban area like Moorooka, understanding the existing amenity or the need to contribute to creating a lifestyle includes consideration of access to employment.

He also noted that skilled factory workers also expect a level of amenity nearby in their suburban workplace.  He said people choose a location on lifestyle factors, including available infrastructure, so there is a need to get infrastructure in early, before reliance is created on external infrastructure (such as retail).  This creates a challenge in cost-effectively delivering infrastructure in a timely manner.

Kate Isles from Infinitum Partners indicated that one of the important roles that planners can play in facilitating mixed-use development in the suburbs is to de-risk the planning, ensuring that projects can avoid impact assessment to preclude third party appeals.  Kate also noted that the latest SEQ Regional Plan has included a focus on economic development, through the designated principal activity centres and regional economic clusters.

Ben Pole from Ipswich City Council noted that local governments that are attempting to stimulate economic development need to build on local businesses and facilitate their growth through capacity building but be open to the evolution of purpose.  Ipswich Central is now evolving more as a health and medical hub focused on the hospital.

Jed added that the San Diego metro area has some similarities to SEQ but was experiencing out-migration, unlike SEQ, so better comparators might be some of the fast-growing metro areas in the south and south-west, like Denver and Austin.

Russell Luhrs from Springfield City Group and Paul Martins from Sunshine Coast Council noted the key influence of leading infrastructure in attracting jobs, including rail at Springfield and the international broadband submarine cable at the Sunshine Coast.

Event report compiled by Suburban Alliance Directors Guy Gibson and Kerrianne Meulman