OPINION: Reinvigorating Eagle Street Pier as Waterfront Precinct - a civic light for the positive momentum of Brisbane

Words by Shaun Munday, Managing Director, Place Design Group

The tides of the Brisbane River from a public space perspective have shifted, and I like what I see being carved into its banks.

Embracing Brisbane as a true river city has taken strong alignment of vision from both local and state governments in recent years, and the potential payoff for Brisbane is nothing short of city-changing.

Part of that massive change is, of course, the proposal put forward by Dexus to re-imagine the Eagle Street Pier area of the city. If you cast your eye along the city reach of the river you’ll see an impressive tapestry of place-making changes - the new Riverwalk, Howard Smith Wharves, the new residential tower at 443 Queen Street, and onwards past the City Botanic Gardens around to the game-changer that will be Queens Wharf.

The missing piece in this is the re-imagination of Eagle Street Pier. The vision for Waterfront Precinct - what could be the beating heart of a truly inclusive business and community space in Brisbane - is in my view vital for Brisbane.

I’ve had the opportunity to help in the planning of how this precinct will take shape - here is some of what has driven the thinking behind it.

Brisbane’s personality should inspire our city’s great places

The inspiration behind the proposed design of Waterfront Precinct is Brisbane itself. The informality, the entrepreneurial spirit, the openness, the friendliness and the climate of Brisbane. It's those things that inspire us.

We have reflected on global benchmarks for waterfronts and partnered with Project for Public Spaces (PPS) from New York, to understand where the gaps and opportunities were for this part of the city aligned with Brisbane’s personality and history. Global best practice in waterfronts and public spaces through leveraging and embracing the unique qualities of Brisbane is our goal. Brisbane is unique in Australia and in the world with the way we go about life, and this precinct based approach aims to reflect that.

The area surrounding Eagle Street Pier in its current format no longer represents what our business sector and broader community expects from a dynamic “downtown” or “business district”. It needs to become more inclusive, more fitting to the business, cultural and entertainment needs of what locals and visitors have now.

From a business perspective it's not an open, collaborative environment where you can run into people and operate informally or casually. It's 30 years old, dominated by cars and is not the place that it once was. Brisbane has and continues to change, and this is a huge opportunity to lead that change, drawing people back to the city and down to the river’s edge.

The feedback from workers and visitors in the Eagle Street Pier area has been incredibly positive. They want to see a public place that welcomes people, and is both captivating and inviting.

Connecting community with an inclusive business precinct

There is alignment in terms of a vision and potential of Waterfront Precinct. That part’s not new; it's been talked about for many years. But now there's a real momentum and Brisbane can capitalise on that.

The vision, willingness and strong co-operation between city, state and the key stakeholders is there. Underneath that, there remains the challenge of finding a way in which all stakeholders can navigate the hurdles to get it done. To me, that is how a great place in this precinct will happen.

Coordination of investment and prioritising the infrastructure will be vital, because all of these projects - the Howard Smith Wharves, Queens Wharf and more - are coming together at the right time. If the timing of the connecting pieces of private investment and public infrastructure is well coordinated and managed, then something special will be achieved.

And it’s special because of its scale. In this part of the city everything has historically been about individual project outcomes, both the buildings and the developments. What the proposed Waterfront Precinct renewal project does is challenge that thinking, refocusing it as a precinct that responds to our changing, more integrated business community and the need for more meaningful and memorable public spaces.

That's the exciting part because it’s what provides an opportunity to deliver a great place for Brisbane. Clearly the context of it between the river and the city streets gives us an extraordinary position in terms of connectivity and river access, but it's the scale which provides the opportunity that other projects are so rarely able to do.

It takes the business culture and workplace design outside the building and puts it into a precinct. That's how you support innovative districts - you create the opportunities for people to informally connect and to want to spend time, and that's what's missing at the moment. It will be a big change.

Where to from here for Eagle Street Pier?

Our planning is progressing well and the placemaking work lead by PPS is providing a firm foundation and user-based framework for what Place Design Group and homegrown Brisbane architects Arkhefield want to achieve in the next master planning phase for the precinct.

You can feel the momentum building with Howard Smith Wharves, the Riverwalk connecting through to the Botanic Gardens, opportunities for bridge connections across to Kangaroo Point and so on. Momentum is strong, and we’re keen to keep it building.

The benefit of having all these projects happen together is creating a step change transformation in one go. And we’re excited to be bringing you bring the city and its people along for the journey.

What I’m looking forward to is to be able to walk through the precinct and see a great urban waterfront with activity in it all the time, both in big public places and the more private intimate spaces. You want to see a full cross-section of our Brisbane community enjoying what the city has to offer, people doing business, families, kids, visitors celebrating our river and climate. If I worked near there, I'd want to get outside to meet somebody and spend time in those coworking spaces, or just see what's going on. The river would be alive with boats and people looking back, observing a city that’s dynamic and inviting.

But what we’re really building is a place that reflects its greatest assets and makes the very most of Brisbane’s unique personality.

And that’s what a tidal shift in momentum can deliver.

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