Megan Cotterell explores, through the pedestrians’ lens, a climate and cultural challenge for development in the Brisbane suburbs of Hamilton/Northshore.
In a design journey that crosses the historical landholdings of John Clements Wickham (1798 – 1864), we see human vulnerability to heat stroke (coup de soleil), prompting the question: “How might we create a responsive urban fabric?”
As cities vie for world status, many grand plans are afoot, and often, underfoot. My fieldwork at Hamilton suggests the prevailing intensification of development model is a deeply conflicted construct. Over four years, hundreds of pedestrian respondents (from mothers who’ve “almost fainted” while with their infants, to people incredulous at the searing “designed” conditions) have contributed to a long narrative converging on a single fact: Australians will die more frequently from the effects of climate unless we address our vulnerabilities.
That there is no material difference in embodied outcomes for people on local footpaths on an unseasonably hot day and those who faced unaccustomed temperatures in the 19th century, tells us something at once obvious, yet barely countenanced as a design and construction priority.
Avoiding “…the hot weather, which is very trying in Brisbane” was in the 1800s, as it is now, on people’s minds. Comparing the climate across the colony, newspapers reported: “…nothing has surprised us more than the number of sudden deaths…as having been caused by the excessive heat of the weather. In all parts of the middle district [NSW region] men and women have died from strokes of the sun or from exhaustion or faintness brought on by exposure to a heated atmosphere…while in this district [Moreton Bay], no similar fatal accidents have been reported to us.” In 2016, news and data confirm: we are on track with southern centres. Heat wave alerts leave design gaps in their wake.
Transport infrastructure renders the pedestrian subservient to the alignment and scale of its carbon-heavy logics. A strategic understanding of pedestrian movements looks to more agile connections, using historical and emerging destinations. Aligning population health with climate realities is critical to doing this well.
Wickham’s riverside lots were bisected by the convict-built Eagle Farm Road, (Kingsford-Smith Drive), shown on sections of the Government maps Moreton District 20 chain Map series, Sheet 1, 1887 and Country Northeast of Brisbane (Owen 1889). As land speculator and government administrator, he clearly foreshadowed growth as positive.
The Wickham properties furnished the Doomben railway; churches; schools; corner stores with protective awnings; the Cold Stores railway; timber and tin dwellings; industrial premises; motels and more. All hang as threads of a Persian rug cut into even, unravelling squares, a trope David Quammen used in Song of the Dodo: for a new urban scale has arrived – large and heavy-handed.
Beyond the ground razed for ever-wider roads, vast open car parks and legislatively nulled waterways, pedestrians persist in navigating a journey. Mining those iterations across habitus and urban pattern, one invokes smaller-scale interventions. Urban wrinkle, Hidetoshi Ohno’s dynamic, place-based activation strategy is a useful template. This strategy speaks to the paradox of the shrinking global city in the Asia Pacific.
Wickham’s scientific legacy, from maritime surveys of Australia’s coastline to the first European documentation of the Pilbara petroglyphs, leads one to reflect on the lines inscribed through culture, on the importance of ‘discovery’ for everyone, of stories of humans in Nature. In bringing Galapagos tortoises collected by Charles Darwin to Moreton Bay, he posthumously carries a light to unavoidable facts about adaptation. “Harriet” a beloved natural history sensation, outlived her collectors by well over a century. Some things about successful adaptation we cannot know, others we can hazard an educated design guess, looking to the data.
To connect with Country, pedestrians require design accountability to a fierce climate. We have the metrics and the economic rationale but fail to strategically deploy relevant industries, materials and projects to the task. As pedestrians travel between home and a railway station, the Eat Street markets or an overnight stay and the Portside cruising wharf, new urban agendas are developing.
The challenge: to turn emerging routes into pathways to belonging, not highways to hell.