Gold Coast Futures (2006)

Sohail Inayatullah (17 October 2006)


Will 30-40% of those living on the Gold Coast be practicing meditation or a similar form of spirituality in twenty to thirty years or will the main practice on the Gold Coast be sun and sin squared?

Will the Gold Coast still be marketed as Very GC or will the Gold Coast become the place to live and visit – a place for residents and tourists?

Will Gold Coast residents and local council develop the capacity to withstand major external shocks, from climate change to dramatic population growth or will the response to crises be more governmentality, surveillance?

These and other issues were investigated by Gold Coast citizens and experts. In a workshop designed to explore emerging issues, scenarios, visions and next steps toward the year 2046, participants expressed the view that Gold Coast’s future should be different from Gold Coast’s today – that a new model of economic growth was required to move from development at all costs to creating green healthy interconnected livable communities.

Participants of being the nightmare scenario of others shires. When shires around Australia, especially southeast Queensland are asked the worst case scenario, more often than not, Gold Coast comes up. But why?

Generally, it is the unplanned development. A focus on cars before other forms of transport. A council that tends to be tribal in its orientation. A place known for visitors but not for residents. A place of imagined theme parks, not really families living normal day to day lives.

To create a new future, the first step, as Fred Polak and others historians have argued, is to imagine it (Fred Polak, The Image of the Future. trans. Elise Boulding. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1973). This workshop was designed to do just that – imagine a new future.


Using a variety of methods – analytic, visual, intuitive – participants developed a shared vision of the future of the Gold Coast.

These had the following characteristics.

  • Interconnected communities
  • Safe, emotionally and physically
  • Environmentally sustainable – cradle to cradle
  • Elegant city design.

When asked to imagine what this would look like, participants said:

There would be community involvement in all facets of life. They did not want an anonymous alienated city. However, they did want a city – urban space was desired. This was not a “back to eden” bush image. But the city had to have greener – environmental design – at every level, from parkways, to beach access, to pedestrian and bikeways ( Gold Coast was to be come a Garden City. The values would be spiritual – a deep connection with the transcendental. What this meant practically was that individuals were engaged in a variety of practices – meditation, yoga, prayer, for example. These were not based on particular religions but were about connected to self, nature, others and the mysterious.

Participants citing research argued that these practices would be central in creating a healthy city – longer life, less disease, and a more relaxed attitude, not to mention higher productivity.

Technology was not an outlier in this future. Participants assumed dramatic developments in health technology, in artificial intelligence, in robotics – the key for them was the use of these technologies to create more community, a greater quality of life, and more elegant road and city design.

Cars would not be the focus by 2046 – other forms of travel would become more important, from sky trains to walking to bikes to …


But while this was the vision, participants did explore more than one future. They engaged in scenario planning. The variables they used were 1. capacity to adapt versus vulnerability to external shocks. 2.the industrial model of development (9-5, mass based, rigid) versus digital green model (flexible, elegant, person, nature and community based). Based on these variables, four scenarios emerged.

The first was the industrial-vulnerable. In this future, Gold Coast is wealthy but it is polluted, congested – the golden goose of nature is eaten.

In the second Industrial-capacity to change, there is a mass switch to solar and wind power. Industry with government lead the way in switching technologies, however, it is generally top-down.

In the third scenario, Green/digital-Vulnerable, the ecological paradigm is adopted but it is insular, unreflective and unconnected communities. Gold Coast is doing well but there is not broader sense of identity.

In the final scenario, Green-digital with capacity to change, there is whole scale transformation. Capacity to change comes from city design but also from community consultation. Government is a partner with small businesses, citizens and the region. Gold Coast along with South-east Queensland begins the process of becoming truly sustainable. There are still crisis but Gold Coast is carbon emissions neutral and citizens band together to meet crisis. There is still tourism but it is far more tailored – some virtual, some green, some pleasure oriented. Even the theme parks have become greener.


This last scenario was the preferred. But why did such a dramatic scenario become the preferred.

Participants could see the direction the Gold Coast is currently headed – getting busier, over populated, more and more urban sprawl, and a loss of the hinterland. They also saw the mistakes of the past – lack of coordinated city planning and lack of community consultation, for example. And they could see that if nothing was done, there would be intergenerational conflicts, as the population of the Gold Coast aged. They could also see more cultural disharmony, as the Gold Coast became more culturally diverse (without new social technologies such as neighborhood mediation centres, or peer mediation taught in primary schools, or emotionally IQ classes at all levels of government and industry).

They could see the current direction and they did not like it. They did not want future generations to ask forty years from now – why didn’t you plan better? Why didn’t you design for community and health? Why didn’t you prepare for climate change? Why didn’t you think of us?


But how would the Gold Coast move from the problematic present to the desired future. Using the backcasting technique, participants listed important events in the next forty years.

These included: threats from the outside, such as climate change and regional attempts to manage change such as the SEQ plans.

In response to external changes, city design was developed for more capability for walking. Car free zones were created.

Oil shocks led to use of greener technologies. Government youth violence task force recommended meditation and physical exercise for youth, and this was implemented. Meditation becoming part of daily school practice, with up to 50% regularly practicing by 2030. Education became left and right brain focused.

As well by 2035 there was a workplace revolution – there was far more flexibility at the workplace and thus more satisfaction for workers.

Participants believed that this was all possible because change was possible, they believed that from little things grow big things. One had to start somewhere. They also believed that for real change, change had to be inner and outer based. It had to be leadership and citizen-led. However, they did not think this would happen automatically. External crisis would create the challenge.

Would the Gold Coast respond?

This group of citizen advisors/experts certainly believe that Gold Coast not only will meet the challenges of the future, but it would change itself in the process, developing a new found confidence, becoming a place to live and visit!