Only the brave: James Tuma explains why now is the time for Brisbane to be bold

Strategist, urban thinker and futurist James Tuma says Brisbane is positioned strongly in the wake of COVID-19 – and now is the time for the city to be bold and shape its future. 

Tuma, the group director of Urbis, has been advising both the public and private sectors on the creation of new towns, communities, innovation hubs and tourism precincts for over 20 years, and played a key role in the Queen’s Wharf redevelopment. 

Speaking at the Brisbane Business Hub’s latest ‘On the Couch’ event, Tuma said the city is recovering exceptionally well from COVID-19, but needs to strike while the iron is hot. 

The bold type 

“The world is literally our oyster at the moment,” Tuma said. “This is perceived as one of the safest, most balanced and capital-attractive free places to be on the planet. That’s a tremendous advantage, but if we don’t do anything with that advantage in the next 6 to 12 months, it’s gone. 

“Australia’s response to COVID has been nice and sensible, but if you look abroad… Tokyo has just decided that they’re going to become the global leader in environmental technology. That’s a bold move. Seoul has decided they’re going to be the leaders in technological advancement – not Silicon Valley, not China, but Seoul. Whether these things are attainable or not is probably immaterial, because it’s about setting a bold agenda. 

James Tuma

“Australian cities are particularly good at problem-solving – literally identifying a problem and solving it. But if you look at the great cities of the world, what defines them is the bold decisions, not the everyday decisions. The decision to build Central Park was a pretty bold one for New York, for instance, and it came to define the city. The London Underground is another example. 

“This is a moment for us to use recovery as a terrific excuse to make bold decisions that literally shape the brand of this city for the next 100 years.” 

Living for the city

For now, Tuma said he sees the post-COVID revitalisation of the CBD as Brisbane’s most pressing issue. 

“Brisbane’s challenge is that we have a significant public sector workforce in the CBD,” he said. “For a whole range of practical reasons, government departments have been slower to come back to the office, and that has had a disproportionate impact on the CBD. 

“There are times when I get out of bed and I think that sitting at home in my UGG boots in front of my laptop would be a terrific outcome for the day. But all of the evidence suggests that all of the economic value we create – new ideas, innovation, business deals – all of that stuff only happens in any real sense when we can do it face-to-face. So while there are many tasks that we can do at our leisure at home in our pyjamas, at the end of the day, if we want to be a highly competitive and productive society, we actually still need to get people together in the same space. 

“Now, does that have to happen in the CBD? No. But there’s another imperative here, which is that the centre of virtually every city is its global brand identity. If you look at a postcard of any city, if you imagine New York in your mind, it’s the city centre that is the most compelling thing. It also happens to be the place that all of the banking and financial institutions coalesce; the place where the highest forms of art and culture are found; the place with the best pieces of public realm – all of those things happen in CBDs. 

“If you can’t get the CBD thriving, notwithstanding that things will obviously be different because of COVID, then you can’t expect to have a successful city. My personal view, then, is that we need to pull out all of the stops and do as much as we can to encourage the activation of the CBD. And that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone coming back to work in the CBD, but it means people coming into the CBD for other reasons.” 

Whether or not they’re based in the CBD, Tuma said that young Brisbanites have become the best ambassadors for the city, and they’ll continue to lift Brisbane’s global profile. 

“If you talk to Gen Y, if you talk to the generation coming through, they’re quite bold about what they love about this city,” he said. “I think we have always had a little bit of a confidence issue in Brisbane, and we haven’t always been great sellers of ourselves or great believers in what we have. But I think that’s changing.” 

Coming up On the Couch 

Maxine Horne
Maxine Horne, CEO, Vita Group

On Thursday 22 April, pioneering Vita Group CEO Maxine Horne will hit the Couch at the Brisbane Business Hub to share the story of how she grew a single store into an ASX-listed brand worth in excess of $600 million; how to put yourself out there and build a personal brand; pivoting her entire 1600-member team in the midst of COVID; and the power of connections and networking. Register for the free session with Maxine here

Don Meij
Don Meij, Group CEO and Managing Director, Domino’s

On Wednesday 26 May, Don Meij – Group CEO and Managing Director of Domino’s, and one of Australia’s most acclaimed and awarded entrepreneurs and business leaders – will share his journey from pizza delivery driver to the head of Australia’s largest and first publicly-listed pizza chain; and discuss the opportunities for Brisbane’s food and beverage landscape in FY22 and beyond. Register for the free session with Don here. 

More sessions will be announced throughout the year. Stay tuned for details! 

The Brisbane Business Hub has been developed to help the local business community recover from the economic impact of COVID-19. It’s a space for businesses in Brisbane to find advice and learn the skills to sustain and grow their business – across all industries. Visit the Hub in-person at Level 2, 155 Queen Street, Brisbane City, or explore our virtual Hub.

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Brisbane Business Hub



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