What’s Your 20-year Plan? (2006)

By Sohail Inayatullah

Article from Courrier Mail, 28 September, 2006


IF THE South-East Queensland Regional Plan is not successfully adopted what will happen?

The plan proposes communities be built and managed using the most up-to-date and effective measures to conserve water and energy and for the design and siting of buildings to take advantage of the subtropical climate.

So what might southeast Queensland in 2026 actually look like? While we cannot know the future, we can reduce uncertainty and gain a better sense of the possibilities through looking at different scenarios.

There are four “futures” that could present themselves in southeast Queensland.

In the first, the southeast Queensland 2026 plans were achieved and our region is still liveable.

By 2026, the population has dramatically increased but through good governance, community consultation and foresight, negative possibilities (crime, congestion, pollution) have been mitigated and positive possibilities (job growth, green belt protection, water and energy management) enhanced.

People still want to move to SEQ even with higher housing prices. A two-class society has not resulted as government has intervened to deal with inequity. A fair go is still possible.

A second scenario could be where SEQ could arrive at the fate of being “hot and paved”. Looking back from 2026, it was clear the plan needed far more teeth.

While it was an admirable effort to take power away from local shires and put the region first, that is not how things have turned out.

Market pressures kept housing prices going up. Developers gave lip service to green and social concerns and a two-class society has started to emerge. Traffic problems did not decrease, rather, every effort to widen highways led to more congestion. SEQ is a long highway between Coolangatta and Noosa.

Global warming has only made life worse – temperatures continue to rise, water shortages increase. SEQ is full of hot, paved cities with higher than normal temperatures. Many people have made money but the quality of life for others has gone down.

Health indicators continue to worsen – citizens look to local government to solve problems. Local government looks to state government which looks to federal.

The federal government just seeks to stay in power. Capacity continues to shrink.

Worse yet, 2026 could be wired and miserable. If the next 20 years play out like this we could face several dire consequences.

Under this third scenario, the past 20 years have been a series of confrontations between local authorities and regional government; between developers and environmentalists; between individual freedom and security; young and old; rural areas and the beach; and new migrants (many environmental refugees) and old migrants.

There is endless sprawl, congested highways and gang warfare which has made SEQ a miserable place to live in.

Peace is kept via surveillance and tough regulations. Citizens are monitored in every possible way. Technology and power is used to keep collective peace.

If our attempts to plan for the future, while admirable, are met with resistance at every level, with local concerns taking precedence over regional, this is the possible end result.

There is one other possibility, one that could see SEQ transformed. In this instance, the concern for the long term future becomes the passion for many. The SEQ vision will enhance the capacity of councils all over Queensland to develop their own visions, for example: Logan 2026, Gold Coast 2046 and so on.

As a result, there is a community capacity to innovate. The people known as “cultural creatives” – less than 20 per cent of the population in the early 2000s – would have grown dramatically. The values of sustainability, spirituality, innovation and global governance will have become the official values.

Instead of suburbs, hubs electronically linking work, home and community have grown. Working in these hubs would have resulted in dramatic jumps in productivity (less time lost on the road, more control of one’s work life).

Travel choices have been renegotiated – walking, bikeways, car, light rail – have increased. Organic gardens have sprouted everywhere. Smart green technologies exist all over Queensland.

Indeed, not only does this transform the state but exports of these technologies are slowly but surely changing Asian cities.

Personal carbon credits have led to reconfiguration of energy use, making SEQ a world leader.

There are still conflicts, but neighbourhood mediation centres (not to mention peer mediation in schools) resolve many of them.

It is too soon to tell which of these futures is the most plausible.

We must change the nature of the city, finding new ways to work and live. Which future do you want for southest Queensland in 2026?

Dr Sohail Inayatullah, an eminent futurist and political scientist, will be speaking at the international conference Subtropical Cities 2006 at QUT today.