Brisbane City Council
Brisbane City Council has delivered a very successful suburban initiative; the Suburban Centre Improvement Projects (SCIPs) program for over 20 years, in partnership with property owners and the local community. During this period – 48 SCIPs have been completed, with an investment of over 53 million dollars. This successful initiative has transformed Brisbane’s rich suburban fabric and assisted in the creation of some of Brisbane’s most popular suburban hubs. They celebrate local character and subtropical outdoor lifestyle and provide places where residents can meet to socialise, shop, conduct business and entertain.
The aim of a SCIP is to improve the commercial vitality of a suburban centre by delivering infrastructure improvements that:
- creates a distinctive sense of place for local residents, visitors and businesses;
- provides a high-quality, attractive public space where people want to visit and shop; and
- improves the attractiveness, comfort, accessibility, connectivity and safety of a centre.
Key attributes of a SCIP include quality pavement, street trees, garden beds, gathering nodes, furniture and public art.
The incorporation of street trees provides one of the most significant benefits to a centre; but also presents one of the greatest design and consultation challenges in the delivery of a SCIP.
This paper focuses on SCIPs as a project and the contribution of trees as an urban design outcome and as a key element to enhancing the liveability of local centres. It also shares some of the challenges faced when delivering a SCIP.
SCIPs in Brisbane
There are a number of key Brisbane characteristics that shape how SCIPs are developed and maintained across the city. It is a city with a subtropical climate, which provides an enviable indoor–outdoor lifestyle. It has high humidity, with a few discomfort days per year; when temperatures and humidity are high and the cooling breezes are limited.
Key to Brisbane’s character is its wide range and high number of suburban centres outside of the city centre that are the heart of community life. Unlike other Australian capital cities; Brisbane City Council is responsible for a wider metropolitan area, in addition to the central business district and inner neighbourhoods.
The Brisbane City Plan 2014 includes four centre types. SCIPs are predominantly undertaken in two types of suburban centres, which have a more local focus, including the District Centre and the Neighbourhood Centre. The District Centres are capable of servicing a wider area and are often the location of a key attractor and are typically located on more major road corridors. Neighbourhood Centres include small-scale convenience shopping, which directly supports the immediate community and are typically located on the more minor road corridors.
Brisbane has a streetscape hierarchy in the City Plan 2014. This hierarchy is about the verge layout; not about the road corridor. It includes Subtropical Boulevards, Centre Streets and Neighbourhood Streets. It provides design advice on the footpath layout, tree species and materials that are typical of these streets. This advice guides both Council-delivered outcomes and private development contributions. In locations such as SCIPs, a Locality Street typology is applied, to reflect the bespoke and higher quality outcomes in these centre locations.
To build upon a sub-tropical streetscape character, street tree planting does not always have a species mono-culture. Outside of Brisbane’s CBD, the streetscape hierarchy provides for more than one tree species to be planted in a street corridor and with the planting layout either singular or clustered trees to suit site conditions, and centre characteristics and to contribute to the subtropical image of the city.
SCIP Partnerships and Consultation
SCIPs are suburban centre public domain improvement projects that are delivered in partnership. This includes property owners, who contribute financially and the local community, which includes local residents, property owners, traders and community members.
Special Benefitted Area Rate
The City of Brisbane Act 2010 allows Council to charge special rates and charges for services, facilities and activities that have a special association with particular land because the land or its occupier especially benefits from the service, facility or activity.
SCIPs are subject to a special rate to partly fund the delivery of the project and to establish ownership of the centre improvements. In the first stage of the project, SCIPs are launched to property owners. They only proceed to design development, wider community consultation and construction in locations where there is majority property owner support for the SCIP and the payment of a Benefitted Area special rate.
In locations where SCIPs proceed; Council pays the upfront costs to plan, design and build the SCIP and recoups a percentage of the costs from property owners via a Special Benefitted Area Rate. The special rate is repaid over a ten-year period as part of the quarterly rates bill, starting in the financial year following the completion of construction. There is no adjustment for CPI or any interest charged on the special rate.
SCIPs involve extensive consultation with the community to ensure that the end result is a reflection of the characteristics and needs of the local community. The community is involved in the planning and design process to ensure a sense of ownership and to identify what is important to those who work in or use each local centre.
SCIPs take approximately 18 months to complete an average-sized centre. In the first phase of the project, Council works with property owners to gain their support. Once supported, Council forms a Community Representative Group or CRG to work on the planning and design of the project. The CRG is made up of a broad cross-section of the community and plays an important role by providing local knowledge, input into the design and feedback from the local community. The CRG includes property owners, local businesses, community groups and residents. This broad range of members assists with delivering a design that covers the broad range of competing needs in a centre.
Incorporating trees into new SCIPs
From an urban design and liveability perspective, trees in SCIPs perform a wide range of valuable functions and provide enormous benefits to a centre. They are broadly appreciated at two different scales: by pedestrians or people in the centre using public seating, dining in private venues or in views from shops and offices, or from vehicle users travelling through a centre. Trees make a key vertical addition to a centre and can mark its entrance and characterise it as a vibrant, rich and well-established location.
Trees value a SCIP in the following ways, which contribute to the centre’s attractiveness, pedestrian amenity, and also local identity by:
- providing shade, a cooling effect and increased comfort for centre users;
- delivering seasonal change through the incorporation of flowering trees;
- making a visual contribution and enhancing local identity and the subtropical character of a centre;
- contributing to the centre’s attractiveness;
- providing gateways to a centre, which are key to marking people’s journeys;
- establishing landmarks to assist with wayfinding; and
- framing views.
The following key considerations and challenges of planting new trees are typically part of delivering new SCIPs.
Locating trees in a centre
Streets have numerous constraints that need to be balanced with the design intent when incorporating trees into a SCIP.
Constraints to designing a street tree layout and species selection can include; the location of underground and overhead services, setbacks from kerb alignments to prevent conflict between trees and road users, vertical clearance of tree branches to pedestrians and cyclists, awning locations, vehicle and pedestrian sight lines, parking layout, dining permits and public lighting and signage.
Existing views are another key consideration and can be a constraint or an opportunity. Maintaining visibility to signs is one of the most contentious issues with centre traders. Every effort is made through tree species selection, placement, spacing and clearances to maintain views. In some centres, views are worthy of framing through the selective placement of trees.
Another consideration is footpath dining, which is a characteristic of Brisbane’s suburban centres and its subtropical lifestyle. The preferred location is on the kerbside of the footpath. This is to allow all people including visually and physically impaired persons to comfortably use the property boundary line, the building edge in the majority of locations as a continuous point of reference when moving along the footpath. Footpath dining layouts need to accommodate existing and proposed trees as part of a SCIP layout, to accommodate the business’s needs and negotiate a new layout that benefits both the businesses and also the local community.
The selection of preferred tree species is one of the key workshop tasks for the SCIP Project’s CRG. The SCIP team develops a shortlist of tree species that suit the site planting conditions, site constraints and project design objectives. The list will include a range of trees that will perform different functions in a centre; for example shade trees and feature trees, including seasonal and locally distinctive trees. The CRG’s role in the tree selection assists with developing community ownership of the SCIP project outcomes.
Species selection is also guided by the inclusion of low-risk species in terms of seed pod and limb and frond drop and limited maintenance requirements. Tree planting in SCIPs does not deliver a mono-culture in the streetscape. The range of selected tree species provides a variety and delivers a design outcome that creates a well-designed and subtropical outdoor lifestyle suburban centre.
Before and after photomontages are a key tool used during the consultation workshops to assist with species selection and to allow members to visualise the benefits.
Wherever possible trees are planted in garden beds and provide a physical and visual separation from traffic and on-street car parking. The garden beds also contribute to the attractiveness of a centre and provide a greater surface area to capture rainwater run-off. Where space is more constrained, trees planted in grates make a valuable addition to a SCIP.
Footpaths are often very constrained and conflicted spaces, providing facilities for a wide range of uses and users. Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) trials have been undertaken in SCIPs, but have delivered little benefit to centres when measured against other project objectives. From our experience in delivering SCIPs, WSUD requirements can preclude the planting of suitable trees, which are key to a SCIP outcome. The construction details can create significant changes in level and occupy large sections of public footpaths, constraining use and requiring the incorporation of safety fences to protect pedestrians.
From our learnings, we have adapted and redesigned the WSUD approach to the often contested public footpath within the centre. This approach has identified the opportunities for reducing water demand by providing alternative sources such as connecting stormwater down pipe from private building into the adjacent garden beds before the stormwater discharge into the drain. This was implemented in the Alderley SCIP.
Please see for more details of Brisbane City Council’s WSUD approach to the planning and design of urban environments that support healthy ecosystem at https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/planning-building/planning- guidelines-and-tools/superseded-Brisbane-city-plan-2000/subdivision-development-guidelines/water-sensitive-urban- design
Trees and vegetation providing themes for artwork
Public art provides a platform for expressing local values, innovation, memory, meaning, creativity and beauty in each neighbourhood. SCIPs use public art to create a point of difference by improving a centre’s identity, providing a community focal point and celebrating local history and character.
Each SCIP engages a curator to develop the artwork strategy, which includes the local themes, outcome types, artist shortlist and locations that deliver on the design intent for a centre. Trees and vegetation often influence the theme of a local centre that celebrates local history and character. This was the case for recently delivered SCIPs at Kenmore and Cannon Hill.
The curatorial rationale for Kenmore SCIP is: Interwoven. One of the common threads and core values that influenced this rationale was the surrounding high-quality natural environments of leafy streets and gardens, parks and natural bushland corridors.
The resulting artwork ‘Growth’ by Matthew Harding was inspired by the rhythms and patterns of nature in Kenmore, which can be reflected in the growth and aspiration of the community. The lineal form of the sculpture creates a trellis of light and shadow akin to the flicker of sunlight through a forest canopy, acting as a metaphor for our daily movements and interactions; capturing a filigree of our modern mobility.
This art sculpture has a scale and visual presence that engages passing views from vehicles and also serves as a place-marker and precinct anchor as human scale. From an urban design perceptive, by placing the artwork in a more pedestrian-focussed location and incorporating a level of detail, SCIP centre visitors engage close-hand viewing experience and promote gathering and interaction.
At Cannon Hill, the curatorial rationale for the SCIP is Urban Folly. The commissioned artwork ‘Tree’ by James and Eleanor Avery is inspired by the history of Cannon Hill, where it makes reference to the naming of the suburb from the early settlers who saw fallen trees and thought they looked like cannons.
The resulting work ’Tree’ represents a symbolism of renewed energy and vibrancy from the Cannon Hill history and also brings a dynamic and playful quality to the centre. The artwork is a stylised tree, fabricated from facets of sheet aluminium and finished with high gloss paint. It provides a landmark at the entrance to the centre on the busy Wynnum Road.
In 2014, after more than 20 years of delivering SCIPs, Council commenced a renewal projects program.
The renewal strategy builds upon the successful qualities of the original design and reviews possible elements that are due for renewal; to refresh and update existing SCIPs.
The first major renewal was undertaken at the 20-year-old SCIP Mitchelton. It included the replacement of standard and bespoke features. The renewal has reinvigorated this very popular local centre.
Asset Management Plans are prepared annually, together with condition audits and a reassessment of a SCIP’s category.
The audits show that many of the SCIP elements require replacement or restoration as the asset ages. The street trees become well-established with age and generally only require regular pruning. A renewal strategy for vegetation and planting in some older SCIPs reviews the overall vegetation condition and identifies the need for replacement, additional planting opportunities or redesign of the existing garden beds for a better-growing environment.
Trees are an appreciating asset and continue to deliver against the key SCIP objective of contributing to the distinctive sense of place and Brisbane’s subtropical outdoor lifestyle.