I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the past three or so months, both as a professional and as an individual.

I am very much a city person. I enjoy the energy of a vibrant city, and the sounds and sights that accompany the vibrancy. I enjoy being able to go for a walk through a park, a busy city street, sit in a coffee shop and watch the world go by. As well as attending major sporting and cultural events too.

People say small towns are generally great places with close knit communities. Serene places that can be great getaways from major cities.

Gladstone fits neither the small town or vibrant city descriptions. I’d call it the worst of both worlds.

Businesses here complain about not being able to fill job vacancies because big industry is snatching up all the workers with big salaries. I’d like to suggest another reason why positions in Gladstone aren’t being filled – the city hasn’t made itself an attractive place to live, people do not want to live in Gladstone. A place with only sport and work opportunities does not make a great place to live.

Gladstone’s leaders are so focussed on dealing with individual issues on a one by one basis that it misses the bigger picture of making the place liveable. The result of this lack of planning is a collection of buildings and communities that don’t really engage.

As a regional city, Gladstone has so much potential. It has natural assets in the form of the hills and the harbour that are key to its existence. It’s an economic powerhouse – the city is to Queensland what Newcastle is to New South Wales. But its leaders lack any sort of vision to make it a great place, they’d rather throw around pathetic individual suggestions such as begging a low-cost supermarket to set up in Gladstone.

Gladstone has an obsession with jobs and money.

All talk in both local and national papers about Gladstone as well as locally tends to be focused on the property markets, housing, industry, health and roads.

While improving all of those things certainly makes a place liveable, it doesn’t necessarily make a place great to live. And liveability is an area where other booming regional cities such as Mackay outshine Gladstone.

In my time in Gladstone, I have seldom heard of any discussion of projects done to improve the liveability of the city. There are a few projects such as the proposed upgrades of the Gladstone Entertainment Centre and the East Shores project being funded by the Gladstone Ports Corporation, but these are merely token gestures. There is no coordinated plan for the city’s public spaces, facilities and infrastructure in the way that Mackay does.

The last extensive planning scheme released in Gladstone was in 2007. Gladstone is a very different place now, and several councils have amalgamated into the current Gladstone region since then, for which no extensive plan currently exists.

Community events, by and large, are lacking in Gladstone. The Gladstone Harbour Festival is among the few major community events that brings the city together. A city like Gladstone can’t simply expect people to be attracted to the area if the only things available are jobs and sports clubs.

A look down Goondoon Street reveals the sad and sorry state of life in Gladstone. It’s a quiet street where the only sounds are those of utes and 4WDs humming along, a few drunk bogans at local pubs and the wind that sweeps the street.

Until Gladstone realises that it needs a coordinated place, and that making the city a place people want to live requires more than just putting infrastructure and housing in, it will continue to struggle to fill job vacancies and enhancing the strength of community in Gladstone.

Urban Rediscovery: Creating Better Communities

Photos from Gladstone: Housing Surge

Don’t ever rely on Google Maps to do research. Those maps are often out of date, and this is particularly true for Gladstone where entire new subdivisions have appeared in a short period of time and can’t be seen from Google Maps.

This is a photo I took in April flying south to Brisbane just after taking off from Gladstone Airport. In the foreground is the growing Glen Eden Estate, looking west along Kirkwood Road (left).

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For those of you who have followed me over from my other blog, you’ll know that I relocated to Gladstone from Adelaide in mid-February. And so commences this blog on Gladstone and the time to reflect on my first few months here.

Gladstone is a major regional city located about 550km north of Brisbane in Queensland home to over 30000 people. Realistically though, the satellite towns of Boyne Island-Tannum Sands and Calliope should be included as well, which brings the real population closer to 45000. It is a place that has emerged on the economic landscape since the 1960s, when a new alumina plant opened to process bauxite. Since then it has emerged into a key industrial and port city, with industries including electricity production, alumina, cement, coal and LNG.

There’s no doubt that Gladstone is currently in the midst of a major boom. This is most obvious seen flying into and out of Gladstone Airport. There are industrial expansions happening around the city, new housing estates emerging from the forests and land reclamation and dredgers around the city’s harbour. The biggest projects at the moment are the three new LNG gas trains under construction on Curtis Island, and the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal.

Between 2010 and 2030, the region’s population is expected to more than double. As a professional who has involvement in a number of the city’s major industrial and infrastructure projects, these are great and interesting things to see. Gladstone really does power above its weight on an economic front, and there are plenty of career and investment opportunities in this part of the country. In 2011, Gladstone was one of the major centres to record major growth in real estate prices, but this also has a flip side.

Things are not all that pretty on the ground in Gladstone. I’m not making any reference to industrial pollution, however, since Gladstone is actually one of the tidiest towns in Australia – it even has awards for it. No, I refer to other issues experienced by locals who live in the area.

Those who live in Gladstone will tell you that there’s three key factors that need urgent attention in Gladstone – health, harbour and housing. Some will add a fourth: roads. But I think some of the real issues go beyond this simplification of separating issues. I believe that the real problem ultimately comes down to a lack of and/or poor planning.

Beyond the accommodation crisis and shortage of housing in the region, there’s a few other examples of poor planning about the place.

A new road link to provide a bypass around Gladstone was recently opened to the public to reduce traffic at other locations in Gladstone. Within a couple of weeks of it opening the road is barely used by traffic, namely the freight traffic that it was intended for. Instead, it provides access to the new housing estates surrounding the new road. Along the new road are several roundabouts too small for large trucks to negotiate and a dog-leg turn in the middle of it.

Then there’s the new housing estates. Access into many of these are poor, requiring large detours or long-way-around routes to get to many of the houses. Many of them also do not have footpaths. I have also yet to see any that have incorporated any major retail or commercial streets as part of their development. Worse yet, some of the new estates are nothing but the same basic design repeated. As a result, everyone has to drive everywhere to do anything – there’s no adequate public transport system either. Gladstone is just a collection of industry and housing that don’t really connect, and it also shows in the lack of community engagement.

There’s no proper main street in Gladstone. Some would say Goondoon Street is Gladstone’s main street, but I’ve seen smaller towns with more active streets than Gladstone. A single major shopping centre with 45 specialty stores hardly cuts it.

Other public places are also lacking. Parks are poorly maintained. There’s also a lack of quality community and cultural events.

As I see it, Gladstone is a community divided into pro-LNG and anti-LNG, those who can afford to live in the city and those who can not. Those who love the place and those who loathe it. A city that envies the range of shopping up the road in Rockhampton because it doesn’t exist in Gladstone. A place lacking quality public or community facilities. But I have one word to sum up Gladstone: characterless.

If I had to choose somewhere to live a good lifestyle and raise a family in the long term, Gladstone is not the place I would choose.