“We, as human beings, are complex. We have strong links to the natural environment, but we also have that natural creativity, and we are social … animals, really.
“How can we facilitate that need in cities? I think at the moment there’s a great opportunity for all levels of government to really look at how we could put a plan in place that better caters for these needs.”
Ms Nieberler-Walker said open spaces “had to work a lot harder”, citing the sharp swing towards cycling and walking for exercise during 2020 lockdowns as an example of a pandemic reaction that should be sustained.
Taking a holistic approach to planning could start with questioning what priorities were placed on public spaces – whether the focus was on high-volume vehicle traffic, encouraging more active transport with full connections between suburbs and city, or creating more welcoming and enjoyable suburbs.
Shading for streets, cycleways and public parks should become a higher priority.
Public squares and parks should have a more diverse range of options, from exercise facilities to small performance spaces, Ms Nieberler-Walker said.
“You need to look at open-space provision in the CBD. In Brisbane, there’s not enough,” she said.
“You also need to look at how you furbish these outdoor spaces – what is important, how can we cool these environments, and how do we make them comfortable for people to be in so they actually stay in places longer and stay outdoors longer?”
Planning for climate change and severe weather should also take public spaces into account, such as ensuring walkways and paths were accessible during weather events.
Ms Nieberler-Walker said she hoped extreme weather events such as cyclones showed politicians the importance of developing a long-term vision to make the state’s outdoor spaces safe and welcoming.
“There is a really strong argument to make that happen now, and that’s why I think the planning needs to be on the local level, on the state level, but also to elevate that into a policy level for the federal government,” she said.
Lucy is the urban affairs reporter for the Brisbane Times, with a special interest in Brisbane City Council.