Regional renewal in Logan

Between Brisbane and the Gold Coast lies Logan. And where Brisbane and Gold Coast rate No.1 and No.2 on most-populous local government area, Logan is fourth for quantum of growth in the fast-growing South East Queensland conurbation. A Google view of Logan shows it slashed by no fewer than 4 motorways; the Logan, Ipswich, Gateway and Pacific Motorway. At eye level, these motorways are Palestinian-wall-like – kilometres of noise wall. Stunted plant life struggles to push past strip footings to find a root zone.

The Motorways live up to the ‘scar’ metaphor in more ways than one; streets and housing along its length seem a bit like damaged tissue along the length of the slash. It never quite recouperates; eternally ruptured. Always recovering.

I was invited up by the Logan & Redlands RDA (Regional Development Autstralia) for two days to rethink housing in a place that resembles many an Australian ‘middle ring’ (but set in that verdant Queensland landscape that grows things to maturity before lunch). Invited up to share some of the work in South Australia, Day 1 included a bus tour of recent housing projects. Day 2 was a really well curated set of speakers, case studies and an impressive circle of local state MP’s who stayed throughout; including John Grant MP who became absorbed in the information, took pages of handwritten notes and summed up the day with a genuine sense of ownership. Important as he chairs the newly formed Logan Renewal Board; a task he obviously takes seriously.

Presentations from PEET, Mangrove and Horizon Housing showed a maturity in housing delivery, and more than just lip service paid to the stories of those who rely on them for housing and support. It helps that Queensland’s Urban Land Development Authority has provided a ‘pattern book’ of simple architect-designed small house plans.

Logan Redlands has high concentrations of low density public housing, like Bonnyrigg or Mount Druit in NSW, or Kilburn or Elizabeth in South Australia. Some parts are up to 70% free standing 3-4 bedroom houses. And as Housing Minister Dr Bruce Flegg pointed out – around 3000 of these properties are now ‘under’ occupied (by a single person). Australia’s demographic shift writ large right there. And while the ‘salt & pepper’ approach of sprinkling public housing tenants across the wider community avoids concentrations, it falls apart in a low density model where government can’t aggregate the properties it owns to form larger footprints for townhouse/apartments.

Bus tours are tricky things and my advice is – run them like an air strike. Gather your pilots. Brief them first on what they’re about to encounter. Provide context, intelligence and rules of engagement. Only then let them fly. We were briefed at each stop (by which time first impressions had taken hold). Like an example of supported co-housing which proved a passable plan but no where near public transport, shops or public gathering place where you could go to watch the world go by. A dedicated mini bus connected them to the outside world but is that an acceptable premise?

More impressive were some of the recent mid rise apartments like Lexington – located between massive open green space that Asian cities would die for, and the Brisbane-Gold coast train line. Grouped around a courtyard the point was made by it’s developer, Horizon Housing that Lexington brings the smaller 1 bedroom option in to the market.

This was one of the themes of the last 2 days – that social housing is not forever. And that demography is a broader church than we often cater for. People often ‘move through’ social housing at a certain period in their lives. And, if provided as part of a suite of support for career advice, skills mentoring or counselling, it provides a place for people while they get back on their feet. Or when they actively want to downsize. More than once we saw over 65’s drinking tea from block-colour mugs on their balcony. Straight from a tv ad selling superannuation.

The other theme was a reminder that not everyone is a fully paid up member of the urban commuter class. Mental health or another disability, family separation, drug or alcohol abuse takes people offline and often only intense case management from empathic people and organizations who devote their professional and emotional energy into diversion programs can walk them back. Helen Betts, board member with Mangrove Housing combines social work at Griffith University with her role on a growing community housing organization spoke compellingly without notes on the at-risk 16 year old who was back at TAFE constructing a life from one that had fallen apart. Or there was the story of a mother with 2 children who – having been diagnosed as ‘high needs’ – was provided housing. Only to find that, on being been placed, was downgraded and couldn’t afford to remain. And had to leave; presumably returning to the high needs register.

Some good work emerged from the forum that will be developed further to inform the RDA’s work, and the work of the Logan Renewal Board. Summarising just some of the key points;

Better models are needed if the levels of government are to work more seamlessly to identify targeted need and the strategic pipeline for infrastructure in Logan Redlands.

That a clear roadmap with rules of engagement is needed. A commitment has been made for Logan’s renewal by establishing the Logan Renewal Board. So now a vision statement and objectives are needed for the many actors in the region to pull together. This should be developed jointly.

That renewal involves partnership with the local housing industry, Griffith University, local NGO’s, Councils and the people in Logan Redlands themselves. This will allow resources to be pooled and spreads the risk; improving the chance of reward and resulting in savings based on ‘business as usual’ models. A renewal program and a vehicle might be needed to do this.

Activating the community itself in the renewal process might involve support structures like; micro finance initiatives for small industry to entrepreneurship, models that build ‘shared equity’ in to programs to restitch community, models that fuse finance with social enterprise.

That a vision for Logan’s housing future needs to be soundly based. Drawing from state agencies, local council and regional datasets; data housed in Griffith Universities schools and from industry. This will produce an evidence base to determine the areas for a more targeted spend.

Logan’s renewal should be an investment in innovation; including construction innovation, social innovation, pilot finance and more co-operative governance as a lead demonstrator for a ‘new way’ in regional development.

That Logan’s renewal should not just be about making cheaper housing available, but in making Logan more desirable. This was one of the last and most important observations of the day and was sketched out, not put in words. Important because every region is looking to retain and attract people so it’s right for Logan to be asking what qualities will define ‘future Logan’? Corrupting an old saying, it seems that Logan is on course to do the right thing. And can set to work at doing the thing right.

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