Sunday, March 10, 2019

Recreating spaces, not demolishing them

Art in the community - display near the Brisbane Powerhouse
by Tarah Hodgkinson

Beautiful places inspire us to create, think differently and feel connected to the past. Or at least that is what I heard at a lunchtime talk on beautiful places and why we need to protect them. The speaker discussed how, rather than tearing down older, unused buildings, we could repurpose them for new uses. These buildings would retain their original character and provide an environmentally sustainable way to maintain a connection to the past.

I heard this talk about four years ago. This is a well-known urban planning field called heritage planning, of which one of our SafeGrowth Advocates, Carl Bray, is a recognized expert.

The deck of the Powerhouse

It all came rushing back to me as I stepped onto the property of the Brisbane Powerhouse. The Powerhouse on the Brisbane river was a power station in the 1920s. However, it went unused for decades and fell into disrepair. There was much debate over what to do with it because it would have cost over a million dollars to tear it down.

Additionally, it took over ten years to get support from politicians to repurpose the building. However, rather than tearing it down and destroying the character of the massive building, in 2000 the Powerhouse was recreated as an arts centre.

Powerhouse box office

In 2018, over 680,000 people visited the Powerhouse and it now hosts over 1200 performances annually. Almost a thousand emerging local artists have presented their work on the walls of the Powerhouse. It has two restaurants and bars which allow it to serve the public both on and off show days and hosts weddings year round. In short, it has become a cultural hub, supporting the Australian performing arts market which takes performances out to the entire community.

What are the takeaways? One is that beautiful places (even old ones) are often inspiring. The Powerhouse marries the old and the new to create a place for everyone to enjoy. There are environmentally sustainable and creative ways to make old buildings new again and bring new life to our neighbourhoods.

Front of the Brisbane Powerhouse

Another lesson is that change takes time. The artist society fought for ten years before it successfully repurposed the Powerhouse into an arts centre.

In neighbourhoods that are trying to make changes, it can be daunting to realize that change can sometimes take a decade. However, it is also a testament to the perseverance and the power of a small group of concerned (and well organized) citizens.

We discuss Liveability Academies as one part of the SafeGrowth method. Teaching local residents how to create a vision and to organize for what they want is an important part of neighbourhood governance. And, as the Powerhouse demonstrates, it can result in amazing, and beautiful, changes.