5 Minutes with Urbis’ James Tuma

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In the lead-up to Urbanity, on August 3-5 at The Star on the Gold Coast, The Urban Developer sat down with Urbis group director James Tuma to discuss town planning trends and behaviours, the responsibility Urbis has to shape cities with intent as well as the importance of conferences like Urbanity.

Tuma will join Dr Sarah Kelly OAM of the Brisbane 2032 organising committee and Brisbane Economic Development Agency chief executive Anthony Ryan as part of a panel discussion on the upcoming Brisbane Olympics on Thursday August 4.

What values and traits you think are important for someone in your role to have to be successful?

“My background in design has shaped my perspective on professional services. Working internationally for a large part of my early career I was fortunate enough to be exposed to many different kinds of projects, clients, places and cultures – this breadth rather than specific technical depth has been the foundation stone of my career. 

The values of being inquisitive, self starting and optimistic have been important touchstones over the past 25 years and when coupled with empathy for our clients challenges and for the communities in which they operate, have been effective tools in shaping my career.

An observation about what it takes to be successful is captured in the saying ‘don’t sweat the small stuff”. By this I mean keep your eye on the bigger prize and prioritise your most valuable resource – your time. 

Another small mantra I often use is ‘start as you mean to go on’ – really just a reflection that if you want to be perceived in a certain way there is nothing stopping you from taking on that persona immediately, building momentum and skills as you go.”


How has Urbis established and how does it maintain such a successful model?

“I would say the key to our ongoing growth and market position is a sense of perpetual restlessness. By this I mean we are never quite satisfied by our performance, our services, our technology or our processes- which drives a spirit of being a little bit better today than we were yesterday.  

“Over time this creates a transformational momentum that encourages many small innovations. We are also, at our heart, and entrepreneurial business which all of our people spending a lot of time in the market with our clients, co creating opportunities and working in so many sectors of the economy.”

Three people on your radar that are doing exceptional work in the built environment? 

Kate Meyrick, Urbis. I cant go past celebrating by partner in crime, Kate Meyrick. Her diligence, charm, positivity, and intellect make her a force to be reckoned with across so many projects both domestically and internationally.

Ashleigh Morris, Coreo. Ashleigh is bright spark and free thinker who is driving the circular economy agenda from the ground and the inside out across Australia and, for some client, globally. Fresh and approachable, she is doing a wonderful job and changing the world, one commission at a time.

Stephen Richards, Gillespies. Stephen is a London Based designer who is doing some amazing work at present – including Elephant Park. He is big on bringing nature into cities and is making an impact on a global scale.


What are the three key trends currently emerging across the property industry?

“Talent: The structural gap between the talent we need and the talent supply chain that exists is widening. 

“Exacerbated by the effects of extended border closures, most sectors are now faced with the need to develop new skills development pathways, sophisticated talent attraction and retention strategies, and access labour markets that are adjacent to core business.

“Planet: The application of circularity, carbon accounting, net positive and a range of other societal expectations about how we can improve the health of our environment are front and centre in most boardrooms at present. 

“This will drive policy, behaviours, the applications of technology, and the expectations of the consumer over above most other foreseeable trends.

“Brisbane 2032: The preparation for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic games is driving significant activity in the property and other sectors. 

“This is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity for SEQ and it will be key that we approach the opportunity with a high degree of intentionality about what we want the city and region to be famous for in 20 years time.”


An inspiring book, research paper you’ve read recently or presentation you’ve attended?

I recently revisited ‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino. Not new, but an old favourite. Whilst perhaps a little ephemeral and poetic, its deep observations on cities, society and change are as true now as when it was published.

Why do you think it is important to have conferences like Urbanity?

In an environment of virtual conversations and a lot of (often uniformed) opinion, bringing together industry to have an informed dialogue about the pressures of today and the opportunities of tomorrow is incredibly valuable. 

Conversations and events like Urbanity allow the industry to leap forward and take on new ideas at a faster rate than would otherwise be possible. 

Events like Urbanity are also important from the human perspective as well – reconnecting with old friends and having inspiring new conversations with the up and comers is all part of having a fulfilling career and being at your best for the road ahead.

Of the vast array of speakers presenting at Urbanity who are you most looking forward to hearing from?

Sarah Kelly. Sarah is such a force for positivity and her inclusion of the OCOG for Brisbane 2032 will bring a level of thinking and expertise that will ensure that the main event is one to remember. 
Sarah’s work around major events, sports technology and elite sports are so incredibly fascinating to hear about.

Join us as Urbanity brings together an unrivalled roster of the industry’s best developers, architects, place-makers, innovators and property professionals. 

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