Who were the stakeholders involved in Varsity Lakes College Senior School?
The development of the Varsity Lakes College Senior School – a state secondary school – became a three-way partnership between the Queensland Education Department, Delfin as the developer and the Gold Coast City Council. The senior school site for grades 7-12 was on very small site of 1.4ha plus another 0.5ha site across the street, both contributed by the developer. The small site dictated a multi-storey building design around 2 internal quadrangles for the teaching and administration buildings. Across the road on the edge of the Varsity town centre park, the Education Department built an indoor sports hall and a 250 seat performing arts centre on land that had been deeded to the Gold Coast City Council.
These buildings were designed to be used by the school during normal school hours and the community at other times. The school manages all bookings for these facilities and maintains the buildings. However, to ensure security of tenure by both parties for the intended uses, the 0.5ha parcel of land was put into a deed of trust ensuring its continuity for educational, social and recreational purposes in perpetuity.
How does the built form around Varsity Lakes support and attract opportunity for mixed-use?
There is a mix of 2 and 3 story office blocks and studio apartments which support a lot of home office type businesses. The adjacent office buildings have attracted quite a few big office tenants; including a couple of large legal firms and a number of IT companies which was one of the very early industry specialisations they concentrated on. Much of the medium density housing is broken up using laneways which connects and supports a mixture of local retail and shopping.
Was it a conscious decision not to locate a major retail anchor in Varsity Lakes?
Yes it was, 5 kilometres away you have Robina Town Centre which was always planned as a major regional retail precinct, with higher density residential coming much later.
Interestingly, one of the innovations was the multi-purpose zoning deal with the Gold Coast City Council across the whole Varsity Lakes development; this allowed Delfin to mix and match uses and the built form in a variety of creative ways. That was quite remarkable and pretty far-sighted by Gold Coast City Council to let that happen. It was key, and allowed Delfin to get a much finer-grain mix in ways that you couldn’t expect from normal zoning guidelines.
It was done first by council giving them very broad-brush zoning and Delfin undertaking a lot of design work which allowed that interweaving to occur. All the design work was either done by Delfin and their in-house design team or contracted out under close supervision.
What role did education play in creating community at Varsity Lakes?
There were no state schools planned for Varsity in the early stages, so a deal was done between Delfin and the Education Department to create an imaginative, different kind of school close to the town centre on the understanding there wouldn’t be any private competitors. So they delivered a P-12 school over two separate campuses before the majority of housing was built. An important part of the deal was an agreement to ensure community access to the school’s assets were available outside of school hours and on the weekends.
Interestingly, because the school went in so early before any housing and it was a construction site around the school for so long, parents got into the habit of driving their kids to school. We finished up with a very high percentage of kids being driven to school, which was contrary to what had originally been intended, what you might call an unintended consequence of a laudable decision to provide early delivery of the schools at Varsity Lakes.
How important was the focus on creating employment?
Jobs were a very important element and the development brought thousands of jobs along with it. It was always going to be an employment hub of some kind and made a lot of sense when you consider that it was situated adjacent to the university. Council was very keen to get jobs into Varsity that weren’t retail, they didn’t want another Robina retail shopping centre. They wanted professional and technical jobs providing highly skilled jobs supporting graduates locally. To a surprisingly large extent, this policy objective has been met.
How should you engage with growth area communities?
The first thing you’ve got to get a handle on is who is moving in to determine the types of services you need. Traditionally if developers are left to their own devices they collect data which only services their marketing needs. There’s a whole theory and practice around Asset-Based Community Development, which essentially works very well in existing communities to determine the facility and services required by a community.
One of the things you’ve got to do in a new community is start creating a history. You must build community development programs literally around dozens and dozens of different types of activities to engage children and families in as many ways as you possibly can. Much of my work as a social planner is to bring council resources to bear in supporting as many activities as possible.
From a community development perspective, you need to capture people’s involvement in their new community in the first six months, engaging them very early on when they are still open to new experiences and new friendships. If you don’t capture them in that first six months then there is a good chance they will go back to past behaviours; this is why the availability of lots of activities, particularly in the case of greenfield communities, is so important.
It’s about helping things to happen sooner, rather than later. It’s being alert to what interests’ people are bringing to the new community? What were they involved in before they came here? You need a community liaison officer or community development worker who’s actually meeting and talking with everyone, getting that information. In the process of talking with them, finding out what they did, what their interests are, you start making the connections.
Delfin used a concept called the ‘nexus’, which was a process for bringing three critical elements to the table; design, community and marketing. Delfin employed people for each function which meant that with the nexus process, the designers, the marketers and the community developers were all sitting at the same table deliberately working through all of the issues where they intersected. It was a very demanding but creative process that I think contributed greatly to the success of those earlier Delfin communities.
Essentially new communities are about three things; the people, the places and the services. Getting the service mix right in greenfield developments is very difficult as the delivery of services is often not timely or even relevant for what people might need. Secondly, we need well designed community places to allow people to work together in creating community, as well as for the effective delivery of services. All communities are a blend of these three things and understanding the trade-offs between them is a large part of the community building and social planning tasks.
If you could change one thing about the way we currently create communities what would it be?
It’s about helping things to happen sooner, rather than later. It’s being alert to what interests people are bringing to the new community? What were they involved in before they came here? You need a community liaison officer or community development worker who’s actually meeting and talking with everyone, getting that information. In the process of talking with them, finding out what they did, what their interests are, you start making the connections and creating social capital in new communities, it’s all about those connections.