CHANGESCAPING | Thought | Build Back Better

Posted on 04/03/2011


Brisbane Floods - Taringa/St Lucia
Photo by Nick Caldwell, on Flickr
Creative Commons Licence

In January 2011, Brisbane experienced its worst flooding since 1974. After many weeks of heavy rain, the sodden city’s brown river broke its banks on 11 January. In the natural disaster context, there’s much talk about climate change, weather variation, disaster mitigation and land use/urban planning with a particular focus on how to ‘build back better’. This has prompted posturing about the future of the city and the implications of climate and geography for a growing sub-tropical city. There are some opportune ideas being cast into these considerations including some thoughts by Griffith University environment and landscape planning professor Darryl Low Choy who proposed forests and farms could be a better use of the inundated areas of the city. However, there are also lost opportunities such as Aboriginal knowledge of the terrain and the weather and the possibility of learning from the cultural knowledges embedded in deep history of the continent.

Reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, Choy said that the flood basins and riparian zones provide a natural buffer during flooding and could be recultivated as urban forests and urban agriculture. In Sprawltown: Looking for the City on its Edges, Richard Ingersoll proposes ‘agri-civism’ – the insertion of agriculture in urban situations – as a tactical possibility for crossing agricultural activities with urban life to enhance social meaning and civic relationships. He also proposes ‘agri-tourism’ as a complimentary educational and recreational enterprise potential arising from a ‘greening and growing’ agenda. This would support the maintenance of these landscapes of urban orchards, farms and gardens alongside rehabilitated bush and wetlands. Since 1974, the city of Brisbane has changed – population growth, increased housing and other development along the river and across its plains – and while the flood didn’t peak beyond 1974 levels, the damage and destruction was compounded by the pattern of development. In offering these ideas, Choy is also challenging communities and decision makers to rethink urban development as an integrated and resilient mix of natural, agricultural, economic, cultural and social uses. An urban farm is also enterprise, cafe, a community centre, a market, a social network, a learning platform and much more. As Ingersoll states, agriculture in an urban context can cultivate a renewed civic identity. Achieving this would mean rethinking typologies and hierarchies of urban and suburban space. It would also mean different kinds of urban systems that engender diverse approaches to place and belonging and what it means to be urban.

Courtney Trenwith, ‘Forests and farms a flood solution?’, Sydney Morning Herald, February 16, 2011
Richard Ingersoll, Sprawltown: Looking for the city at its edges