Passable by day but much more attractive in the low light of night, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley is the throbbing heart of Brisbane’s nightlife. Running through the guts of the Valley is the Brunswick Street Mall, a hundred and fifty metre long pedestrian thoroughfare that blocks traffic, has a twenty-four hour McDonalds and provides shelter to homeless people.
In short, the Mall is a bit of a shithole. That was okay when the Valley was generally a shithole. But Fortitude Valley is changing so rapidly, Briz Vegans aren’t even fully aware of what’s taken place in the last five years.
The Critical Issue
Every major city in the western world has at least one neighbourhood where you can go and:
- Get mind-numbingly drunk
- Try to get laid or, failing that, pay to see some tits
- Do so with a flood of like-minded people
Depending on your local laws and level of enforcement, this may also include:
- Prostitutes, legal or otherwise
- Increased accessibility to narcotics
- The risk of getting robbed or assaulted
Think Amsterdam’s De Wallen and Leidseplein. It is critical to the health and well-being of the city that this facility is available for residents and tourists to party. It contributes an important part of a city’s personality and is part of what distinguishes a proper metropolis from suburbia. Fortitude Valley meets this criteria and is unique in the Brisbane metro area.
What’s happening in Fortitude Valley now
The Valley has been the site of a truly remarkable building boom. Despite the global slowdown, the Valley keeps shooting skywards with large glass boxes popping up along Wickham and Ann Streets. Examples include new headquarters for Leightons and Energex, Emporium, M&A, 757 Ann St, the Gasworks with another half a dozen developments in the pipeline. Most of this has happened so recently, Google Maps shows most of the above as construction sites. The net result has been the transformation of a suburb noted for its colourful nightlife into an extension of the CBD that mixes convenient residential living with competitively priced office space.
Brunswick Street Mall is the spiritual epicentre of the Valley, despite the fact that most of the exciting venues are on Ann or Wickham Streets and all of the interesting food is in Chinatown, a block away. The Mall is located in the middle of these three and offers:
- Three fast food outlets
- A discount sporting goods store
- A convenience store
- Public toilets
- A nightclub that has re-branded at least twice in my memory
- Ric’s, a nightclub (formerly the Hacienda)
- Kaliber, a terrible nightclub that will leave you with temporary deafness
In short, the Brunswick Street Mall lacks a theme. It’s haphazard and doesn’t have any of the appealing attributes of the surrounding streets.
What the council has proposed
The Brisbane City Council has proposed a pretty straightforward plan for re-invigorating the Mall. It will involve removing trees, repaving the mall and adding a shade structure/feature roof. These are all welcome developments from a landscape architecture viewpoint. For example, I can’t imagine how disgusting it must be to clean the pavement after Friday and Saturday nights. The brown paving bricks used now, while very 90’s Brisbane, would be difficult to clean and are not compliant with the latest disabled access standards. Getting rid of the trees will open up the visual aspect and give the Mall a more town square feel.
Fortunately, the proposal has steered clear of making Brunswick Street more “family friendly” (that idea can suck a dick) but hasn’t dealt with the core of the problem: Brunswick Street has been left behind by the rest of the Valley.
Where’s it all going?
Whereas the recent attention given to Brunswick Street offers an opportunity to discuss the future of Fortitude Valley, the flood of well-heeled residents and professionals is likely to trigger a different transformation without public consultation and one the city is likely to suffer for.
NIMBYism is a terrible affliction of the Australian psyche. Suncorp Stadium in Milton, just to the west of Brisbane’s CBD, is restricted in the number of events it can hold in a year, which was brought to public attention when the Reds, Broncos and Roar were succeeding at the same time. The state’s premier sporting facility is restricted in how many sporting events it can hold because it might upset the neighbours, 99% of whom have moved to Milton with full knowledge that Lang Park is there and it’s sole purpose is to host big, noisy events.
Now that the Valley is no longer a den of vice and it costs well over $500,000 just to buy a one bedroom flat, how long do you think it’ll be before the new, wealthy residents start to complain about the noise, the vomit-stained streets and the homeless people?
Unfortunately, it is the way of things that, short of the divine intervention of Brisbane City Council, NIMBYist complaints will slowly strangle the life out of the Valley’s nightclub precinct. Ironically, Brunswick Street may be one of the last streets to be affected and current renovations offer an opportunity to get some half decent venues onto the Mall itself, as a last stand against the suburbanite sanitisers.
Regardless, when the Valley dies, I don’t know how Brisbane will substantiate it’s claim to be a “world city” but it will certainly be the worse for it.