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How can Brisbane define its place among great cities? Here's a hint - it already has

Opinion

Brisbane doesn’t need to redefine itself in order to become one of the world’s great cities – it simply needs to embrace the image it has already created, writes Shane Rodgers

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When the then US President Barack Obama visited Brisbane in 2014 for the G20 summit, he gave us a useful 30-second lesson in global city perceptions.

At the time Queensland had long ago abandoned its famous “beautiful one day and perfect the next” slogan (now resurrected) and Brisbane leaders bristled at the nickname “Brisvegas”.

Yet, in his speech, President Obama used both. “This city and this part of Australia is just stunning,” he told an audience of mostly young people at The University of Queensland. “Beautiful one day and perfect the next.”

“We travel a lot around the world. My staff was very excited for Brisvegas.”

For years Brisbane has lamented its lack of a unique identity and its place as the number three capital in Australia – neither the bride nor the bridesmaid, confined to the “others” table at the national wedding reception.

I’ve lost count of the number of campaigns the city has done to “finally” establish its identity. Most were barely memorable. None had an attention span.

When it came to the crunch, President Obama gave us the answer: Embrace who we are, accept how we are perceived and use it as a strength.

Cities are notoriously reluctant to accept their outside reputation. The smart ones do it with gusto. Think: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, “Keep Austin Weird” and “Where Yee-Hah! meets Ole!” (Eagle Pass, Texas).

With the Olympic Games now looming, Brisbane will never have a better chance to carve out its unique positioning in the world.

Ahead of the 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane, the city’s economic development agency (then known as Brisbane Marketing) used the summit leadup to execute two different strands of brand identity.

The first was that Brisbane was a great destination and gateway to world-class tourist assets. The second was that Brisbane was a “serious player” in the Asia-Pacific (one capable of hosting a G20, a World Expo and major sporting events like the Commonwealth Games).

Overlayed with that was a strategy to give Brisbane a leadership position in the Asia Pacific, starting with the existing Asia-Pac assets – the Asia Pacific Cities Summit, the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (then staged in Brisbane).

The hugely successful Brisbane Global Café, an international gathering of 2500 people staged as a major curtain raiser event to the G20, also provided a template for the type of event Brisbane could stage to place itself at epicentre of thought leadership on important topics.

In the decade leading up to the Olympics, the “serious player” work needs to be reinvigorated.

And we need to take President Obama’s lead and add a third string to the brand bow – a positioning as the lifestyle capital of the Asia Pacific. If Brisbane (and by extension south-east Queensland) positions itself as a serious player with an unsurpassed lifestyle, we are in great shape to leverage the Olympics to attract talent, investment, visitors, and students.

The timing could not be better. It is not just the Olympics. The iconic Queen’s Wharf project is about to transform the inner city, a major revamp is planned on the Eagle Street waterfront and the Howard Smith Wharves are already giving us a fresh, picturesque, hip hangout to showcase our river city.

The Cross River Rail and Brisbane Metro projects will underscore the unlocking of potential in other areas of the city through the reimagining of the Gabba and hopefully the Brisbane Live precinct in Roma Street.

Importantly we need to embrace our culture and heritage, not fight it. We are who we are. Let’s deal with it and build on it.

Brisbane has badged itself as Australia’s New World City and, a decade or so after doing this, it is steadily growing into that ambition.

The next step is to define a new world city for the region and lock in the infrastructure, events and business/education/employment ecosystem that such a city should boast.

We should not be afraid to aggressively pursue an international agenda coupled with a strong plan to leverage the attention to grow local business and create quality jobs.

The Asia Pacific’s Lifestyle Capital should be beautiful one day, important the next.

Shane Rodgers is a former Chief Operating Officer and Marketing and Communications Director of Brisbane Marketing (now Brisbane Economic Development Agency). He is currently the Brisbane-based national Chief Operating Officer of Australia’s peak industry membership organisation The Australian Industry Group.

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