Fitting Utrecht and Amsterdam on the Leftover Lowlands of Brisbane

Identifying non-vehicular easements is like scraping away all the car-land to reveal an 1800s map of a city. Here are some old maps of Brisbane, like palimpsest scrolls that have not yet been ruined by car crazed engineers. Brisbane is on a few of our minds at the moment because the Queensland Museum is hosting the National Museum of Australia’s travelling exhibition, Freewheeling Australia. It is just so much easier for anyone with an interest in cycling to get an event staged in Brisbane while that exhibition is there.

I’ve had a keen interest in exhibition spaces for almost two years now. Ever since it occurred to me that my current mission (to displace the car-and-sprawl model with a model that’s even faster for a population of up to 6,000,000), places me at a similar point in history to the one that visionary architects found themselves in during the interwar era, I have been thinking that I need to use the same tactics that they did. They used exhibitions: the Futurama, Broadacre, Plan Voisin, etc..

Rather cleverly, I must say, I shot a fortuitous email to Professor Angelina Russo with this idea. She’s one of the key people who museums consult for advice about using their collections to engage with the public—beyond just getting them through the door for an overpriced muffin. (The Queensland Museum cafe had no raspberry and white chocolate muffins when I tried to buy one there 10 days ago, I just thought I would mention).


I was in Brisbane because Angelina, in collaboration with the Museum, managed to pull together a star cast of Queensland’s bike planning officialdom and advocacy bods for a one day workshop titled, “Velotopia: an impossibly ambitious vision for Brisbane.” Had we met at Brisbane town hall, where the participants at our workshop would normally meet to grind it out over bollards, such a day could never have worked. Australians have a natural aversion to new ideas. Our traditional mainstays, shearing and mining, rely more on routine. So that’s how we think. Even in universities you hear expressions like “blue sky thinking” used to subtly deride innovation, lest all those bad memories of wide comb shears rise up and haunt us. Museums are sufficiently pointless in the minds of Australians that innovation can be discussed without risking a riot.

I don’t need to provide a report from the day. There’s a Briztreadley podcast that says it all nicely. I want to talk about Brisbane. We started our workshop with a morning ride from the Museum out to the former docklands. We were going to all put our bikes on the CityCat to return. Missing it saved us at least 20 minutes.


Just as we were arriving at the museum, the CityCat was pulling up at the wrong side of the river. Surely, you might say, that is because we were cycling enthusiasts riding in formation and bombing through lights. In fact our combined speed was less than a Dutch mum’s with her kids in a box bike.

We stopped for the rain, a few chats, and even a minor fall, but the CityCat had to stop and let people on and off at a half dozen stops that would have been of no interest to us whatsoever. Public transport is totally suckish like that.

The fantastical way to service a hilly, hot and sprawling city like Brisbane would be with a network of cloverleaf freeways like the networks they have in Texas. The problems is, that system is cracking even in Texas where the freeways came first. What hope is there for a city trying to put freeways in after the fact?

During our workshop in Brisbane we found there is enough flat land beside the river to the South of the city to build Amsterdam, and enough to the North to build Utrecht. I happened to get a great view of New Utrecht from my window seat on the pane flying in, with Brisbane a short half hour ride in the distance.


So now we’re working on a [re]cycle-space map, based on work started at the Museum, detailing all the low lying redevelopment sites and non-vehicular easements linking them up. The hope is to get more people involved in a follow-up workshop, back at the Museum, before the Freewheeling exhibition takes its goodness elsewhere.

1 Comment

  1. crank says:

    Good Dr, you build that Velotopia and I’m buying a penthouse there.

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