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Gold Coast Greenheart, Light rail, Southport CBD: How Olympics Can Boost the City

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  • Post published:March 29, 2021
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Article originally published on Gold Coast Bulletin

When it comes to the 2032 Olympic Games legacy, the Gold Coast cannot settle for silver.

While Brisbane is already on the front foot to make the most of this singular opportunity with the Committee for Brisbane’s Olympics Legacy Project, our city is not yet out of the starting blocks.

With the southeast Queensland region named the preferred bidder for the Games, it’s as if we’ve been presented with Aladdin’s magic lamp … it’s an opportunity to make our civic wishes and watch them come true.

But, as every good genie must ask, what do we want to wish for?

Supporters cheer at 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. AFP PHOTO / Anthony WALLACE
Supporters cheer at 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. AFP PHOTO / Anthony WALLACE

It may seem that 2032 is more than a decade away (hint: it is) but in terms of construction and infrastructure, that’s merely the blink of an eye. It’s time to start the conversation now.

And that’s precisely the pitch from Dan Barr, the director of Better Cities Group — a Gold Coast consultancy that advises government, ASX-listed companies and the development sector on urban design, economics and city activation.

Better Cities Group director Dan Barr Picture: Dan Barr
Better Cities Group director Dan Barr Picture: Dan Barr

With qualifications in public health, project management and urban design, Dan has contributed to the delivery of some of the city’s most significant initiatives, including Gold Coast light rail and the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“This isn’t about what I want, it’s about what the city wants,” he says.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity to not just dream big but to bring forward the completion of huge pieces of infrastructure by decades.”

Dan says it’s time the city creates its own Olympics legacy group to protect and promote the interests of the city, and he has a shortlist of projects prepared to start the conversation.

Closing ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast.
Closing ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast.

While some are already up for discussion, like the city’s Greenheart — a giant 220ha parkland two-thirds the size of New York’s iconic Central Park, stretching from Robina to Carrara — he says the opportunity now is to fast-track completion and boost investment.

Other projects like light rail could be expanded even further than already being discussed.

“Light rail to the airport is a constant source of conversation, but I think we should start looking at planning for the spur lines like Nobby Beach to Robina and Broadbeach to Nerang as well,” he says.

“Then there’s the fast rail linking Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, and possibly Toowoomba — the opportunity to operate as a sort of supercity would just turbo charge our future.”

Better Cities Group director Dan Barr says the Olympic Games is the perfect chance to expand light rail on the Gold Coast. Pic Mike Batterham

Better Cities Group director Dan Barr says the Olympic Games is the perfect chance to expand light rail on the Gold Coast. Pic Mike Batterham

Indeed, Dan says the power that the southeast will have as a fully connected region will be worth its weight in gold — and not just in terms of medals.

But perhaps one of the most interesting legacy suggestions could prove a solution to one of our city’s most perplexing problems: that of Southport.

Plagued by a reputation of crime, homelessness and lagging property values, Dan says the Olympic bid could be the inspiration necessary to attract investment to the historic suburb.

“This is a chance to finally make Southport the true CBD of the city and our civic heart.

“It’s time to look at transferring the City of Gold Coast headquarters to Nerang Street, along with its associated offices, and centralising all of our state and federal governments offices in that location as well.

“The council already owns so much of the land there, we could really create a civic plaza in the heart of Southport. It already has the transportation infrastructure in place which is perfect, I know that’s something that (former city architect) Leah Lang has advocated.

“She’s suggested the creation of a sort of green bridge over the highway to connect the Southport Mall to the Broadwater Parklands, finally connecting the two sides of Southport.

“One of the big problems we have in Southport right now is that while there are spots of industry and business, they are not amalgamated in the way they could and should be.

“Once you have more vibrant streets, it becomes a safer space.”

Indeed, the proof of this theory can be found in the reverse experience of Melbourne’s own CBD.

Better Cities Group director Dan Barr says the Olympics is a chance to finally make Southport the true CBD of the city. Picture Glenn Hampson
Better Cities Group director Dan Barr says the Olympics is a chance to finally make Southport the true CBD of the city. Picture Glenn Hampson

Lord Mayor Sally Capp recently described scenes in the COVID-vacated CBD as “absolutely revolting”, with criminal behaviour and graffiti increasing as the streets emptied of workers.

Dan says creating a civic centre would provide not just a social but an economic boon to Southport.

Meanwhile, in our other problem suburb of Surfers, Dan says it’s time to look at potential public/private collaborations to activate dead and dangerous spaces.

He says travelling through the suburb on light rail, it’s obvious there are sites begging for renewal.

Clothes left by the homeless at Carey Park opposite the Southport Broadwater Parklands on the Gold Coast.
Clothes left by the homeless at Carey Park opposite the Southport Broadwater Parklands on the Gold Coast.

“Working with the City of Gold Coast recently, I think the case is very strong for a collaboration of private and government investors to create a masterplan.

“There are quite a few spaces that are publicly owned — like the Cypress Ave car park which is like a cavity in the centre of the city.

“There’s an opportunity to make that a public square, a green space for people. Cavill Mall needs a redo — you can spot all the places that need work as you ride through on light rail. Some parts are done well, some are not … this is a chance to look at what could be done, look at who would be responsible, figure out the funding and get it completed by 2032.”

Dan says it’s not only big-ticket items we could tick off, but also reinforcing sustainable suburban hearts across the city, from Coomera in the north down to the border.

He says the city has already stated its intent to continue constructing green bridges, a piece of crucial pedestrian infrastructure.

“It’s just getting the mix right in certain areas. Around the Coomera town centre there is a lot of private investment, but it would be good to get public investment as well — especially in the shape of plazas and parklands.

“Anything that makes our city more walkable and more connected is what makes it more sustainable.

“The Oceanway is another project that is in the public forum, now we have the chance to just get it done.

“Same again with The Spit masterplan, we’re a fair way through that now and it’s crucial that we stick to that masterplan. Interestingly, that actually shows spur lines for trams.

“People often criticise the light rail for just being one line up and down, but that’s only the start. The plan is to have these spur lines and to connect the light rail to other forms of transportation like buses and heavy rail at the airport — it’s all about a solid, reliable network.”

Dan says one of the greatest legacies from the Commonwealth Games is set to benefit again.

He says the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct was turbo-charged by the 2018 Games, bringing forward development in the precinct by 20 to 30 years.

“There are still a lot of empty blocks out there, now is the time we can attract the investment to fill them in,” he says.

“This will be a catalyst for more growth, for more investors, more researchers, more entrepreneurs and ultimately that means more money and more jobs for our city.

“The Olympics is really going to bring eyeballs and money to our city and this is the time to leverage off of that.”

Dan says despite having his own wish list, these decisions are not his to make — rather, he wants to inspire conversations while we still have time to plan.

“Ultimately, the legacy we want to build is a better, bigger future for the Gold Coast and for our families,” he says.

“It’s not about what I want or what I think, or even what our leaders think, but having the conversation together as a city and being united as we can in our goals.”

Indeed, the Olympics is not just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our homegrown athletes, but also for our homegrown residents.

The starter’s gun is about to go off, we need to have a Games plan if we’re serious about the Coast going for gold.