Yen Trinh, urbanist and designer

Don’t have regrets – act on ideas and give it a go ...

While it may be the soaring high-rises that we notice first when gazing across the city skyline, it’s the spaces in between those buildings where the real magic happens. It’s the sliver of park in the CBD where you take your lunchbreak, the winding paths of the City Botanic Gardens where you clear your head, and the lazy bends of the Brisbane River where you recharge and rebalance. In an Australian first, these vital public outdoor spaces will be highlighted and honoured this week, as innovators argue for the importance of landscape architecture when shaping a city. Passionate Brisbane urbanist and designer Yen Trinh will be joining the Forecast Festival of Landscape Architecture’s line-up of 27 speakers, sharing her passion for urban design and collaboration. Before the three-day festival kicks off in South Brisbane today, Yen caught up with The Weekend Edition to share her dreams for Brisbane.

You’ll be sharing your wisdom at the Forecast Festival of Landscape Architecture in South Brisbane this weekend; what can you tell us about the event?
Forecast Festival is the first festival by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture, and moves away from the usual conference format to be a program of participatory experiences and conversations about landscape design, urban spaces and collaborations. There’s a range of ‘Come Back to My Place’ experiences with local design offices, talks, broadcasts, exhibitions and a festival hub to inspire, engage and celebrate the profession.

Where will we be able to find you?
I’m joining a conversation panel on ‘Big Future – Legacy and Next Generation’. As the very last session of the three days, we’ll be reflecting on all the festival’s sessions and hopefully ending it on a positive bang!

What do you love about living in Brisbane?
It definitely feels like a growing scene, but still feels small enough that you can start things, be heard and find supportive people for your ideas.

If we gathered the entire city in one place and handed you a microphone, what’s a key message you’d like to convey about urban design and community thinking?
I’d like to tell people that street life and public spaces really matter and we should stop designing cities so much for cars. I’d also say that city councils can’t and shouldn’t be responsible for everything, and that it’s a two-way street for communities to be more active in shaping the conversations, culture and activities of our city.

What do you think Brisbane is missing in terms of public spaces?
There are actually many great spaces and positive initiatives, but I think we’re sometimes missing the investment and policy structure to deliver some of the aspirations. For example, it’s well and good for cities to say pop-ups and food trucks improve place-making, but not helpful if the licensing systems doesn’t make it easy for anyone to do.

Which is your favourite community space, vantage point or cultural venue in Brisbane?
I’m really interested in businesses that contribute to neighbourhoods and actually build a sense of community just as much as any ‘traditional’ civic space. It’s a bit like the ethos of the old Urban Grind at Paddington, and I see places like Scrumptious Reads, Apartment, Scratch Bar and Wandering Cooks as some of the best examples of building a community through events and collaborations.

We loved your 20 Wishes for Brisbane! For those who haven’t had the pleasure of hearing them, can you please let us in on your dreams and hopes for the city?
20 Wishes for Brisbane was three years ago and I was chuffed to actually find some wishes came true. Some of the ones I’m still wishing for are regular and major car-free events in the scale of New York’s Summer Streets, Nuit Blanche (an all-night public art event that takes over the city) and pop-up drive-ins to activate empty shopping centre car parks.

You’ve worked for design firms, non-profit groups and government sectors; which has been your personal favourite project to work on so far?
My first foray into community events was Park(ing) Day in 2008 so that one will always be important in setting my path, but probably New York projects like BYO BQE – a pop-up dinner under the Brooklyn Expressway – are favourites because of the people involved. This included five non-profits related to urbanism, which simply just doesn’t exist in Australia like that.

You’ve co-founded community projects like the UR{BNE} Film Festival, Brisbane Park(ing) Day, Brisbane Sketchcrawl and Bench Diary, what drives your passion to help make Brisbane a better place to live?
Many of those projects comes from a desire to make urban design issues more relevant and interesting to people. Mostly that started as a frustrated response because I didn’t think it was happening in the traditional urban planning process, and/or planning was often too complex and boring for people to understand or care about.

What are the challenges in your line of work?
In the space of community initiatives, I think the challenges can often be the organisational structures. It’s often driven by people’s volunteer time and in-kind support, which is great but can also be exhausting and at a certain point of scale and ambition you pretty much have to be a non-profit or business to achieve some things and be financially sustainable.

Can you let us in on any exciting projects you’re currently working on, or have planned?
I’m already thinking about the 2015 program for UR(BNE) Films and have found some design films I’d like to show. I’d love to expand the program to an outdoor screening and more partnerships with designers and groups to pick the films.

You’re the experience design manager at Queensland Museum, what upcoming exhibitions are you particularly excited about?
There’s some great content and public programming happening from November with Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (V&A) and Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia from Museum of Australia.

We’re head over heels in love with your Beerkary Bakery – can you share any insider tips on what we can expect over the coming months?
Beerkary Bakery’s first birthday is in October so we’re looking to do something fun and special to celebrate and thank our friends, family and supporters. My partner, chef Ben Devlin, is also looking at some market events in November.

How do you define success?
Collaborating with great people, and working on great ideas.

What are your words of wisdom?
Don’t let your future self look back on something with regret. It’s better to act on ideas and give it a go.

Only a local would know that … jacaranda trees blooming signal exam periods.

Perk up … 
La Macelleria, Teneriffe.
Relax … the Newstead reach of the Brisbane Riverwalk.
Be inspired … Asia Pacific Design Library, South Brisbane.


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