Professor Sohail Inayatullah
The SEQ 2026 plan intends to: “protect biodiversity, contain urban development, build and maintain community identity, make travel more efficient, and support a prosperous economy. At the same time, the Regional Plan proposes that 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.”
This is certainly a step in the right direction. SEQ provides a vision, direction so as to deal with expected demographic change and the resultant problems and opportunities.
Reflecting on lost opportunties, John Minnery writes that in 1944,” planners proposed a one mile wide ‘green belt’ of rural land encircling Brisbane’s developed suburbs, together with future satellite towns linked by road. Supporters argued that cities were spreading ‘like spilled treacle, engulfing everything in its path’. Such treacle cities city covered good agricultural land. They led to the overloading of water and sewerage mains and to insurmountable traffic problems.”
However, this proposal was not implemented.
“But just think how different South East Queensland would look today of the idea had been implemented. Clear breaks in the continuous suburban landscape now stretching from Noosa to the Tweed and beyond Ipswich. Public effort put into towns beyond the green belt with a better distribution of jobs and the infrastructure to serve them. And no public concern about the looming sprawling ‘200 kilometre city’.”
SEQ 2026 has learned from this lesson in setting out a vision and new directions for the future.
But what might 2026 actually look like? While we cannot know the future, we can reduce uncertainty; we gain a better sense of the possibilities through scenarios.
I offer four futures for the SEQ region.
SEQ STILL LIVABLE
SEQ 2026 goals achieved. It is 2026 and there is plenty of opportunity in SE Queensland. 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, travel choices) 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. Green spaces are plenty and urban design is far more sensitive to local conditions.
A fair, green and healthy go is still possible. Queenslanders still look to government to solve their problems but they are less dependent on the State. They are also more globalized, looking to live, work, travel, learn from, import and export to the broader world. Using dramatic new technologies, Queenslanders are planning for 2046.
SEQ HOT AND PAVED
SEQ 2026 goals failed as growth was too dramatic. Looking back, 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 turned out. Market pressures kept housing prices going up (demand from other parts of Australia and overseas) continued. Developers gave lip service to green and social concerns. A two class society has started to emerge. Traffic problems did not decrease, rather, every effort to widen highways, in a matter of years, led to more congestion. The vicious cycle continued. SEQ is a long highway between Coolangatta and Noosa. Global warming has only made life worse – temperature continues to rise, water shortages increase. SEQ is full of hot cities – paved cities with higher than normal temperatures. Many have made money but the quality has life for others have gone down. Health indicators continue to worsen – citizens look to local government to solve problems. Local government looks to State government which looks to the Federal. The Federal seeks to stay in power. Capacity continues to shrink.
SEQ WIRED AND MISERABLE
The last twenty years have been a series of confrontations between local authorities and regional government; between developers and environmentalists; between individual freedom and security; between councilors and state governments; between young and old; between rural areas and the beach; and between new migrants (many environmental refugees) and old migrants. Endless sprawl, congested highways, gang warfare have made SEQ a miserable place to live in. There are many gated communities – high gate, big dog – that give some peace to the elderly. But outside these communities social tensions fester. Peace is also kept via surveillance – live Google – and tough regulation. Air has been digitalized and citizens are monitored in every possible way. Discipline is the buzz word – SEQ returns to the political climate of the 1980s. The attempts to plan for the future, while admirable, were met with resistance at every level. Local concerns took precedence over regional – and it is all a mess now. Technology and power is used to keep collective peace.
The concern for the long term future was ignored by some but became the passion for many. The SEQ vision enhanced the capacity of shires all over Queensland to develop their own visions (Logan 2026, Gold Coast 2046, Maroochy 2020, Brisbane 2026, for example). Community capacity to innovate resulted. The cultural creatives – less than 20% of the population in the early 2000’s – has grown dramatically in the last twenty years. The values of sustainability, spirituality, innovation, global governance have become the official values. These values have been reinforced through systemic (legislation, city design, tax regimes) changes.
Instead of suburbs, work-home-community electronically linked hubs have grown. Working in these hubs has led to dramatic jumps in productivity (less time lost on the road, more control of one’s work life). Travel choices – walking, bikeways, car, and light rain – have increased. Organic gardens have sprouted everywhere. Smart green technologies exist all over Queensland. Indeed, not only has this transformed Queensland, but exports of these technologies are slowly but surely changing Asian cities. SEQ is known has not just the smart centre for Australia but also the shanti centre. Yoga, for example, a three billion dollar business in the USA 20 years ago, has now become a trillion dollar business and SEQ has done well from it. Healthy eating and living were once a dream but the obesity crisis of the first ten years of this century led to a dramatic turn around. Systems became smarter and individuals took personal responsibility for their health. The invention of the personal carbon credit system also led to reconfiguration of energy use. SEQ is a world leader. There are still conflicts but neighborhood mediation centres (not to mention peer mediation in schools) are used to resolve many of them. While population has increased, energy consumption has maintained steady. Innovation continues to breed technological and social innovation. While there are many global changes, SEQ can meet them as citizens do not see themselves at the mercy of large institutions, their capacity to influence their lives continues to increase.
Which of these futures is the plausible one? It is certainly too soon to tell. But decisive factors will be (1) A shared vision of the desired future. (2) Good governance through enhanced community consultation and anticipatory democracy. (3) Use of smart, social and sustainable technologies to solve problems and enhance community capacity). (4) Moving away from quick fixes to the deeper issues (for example, not just expanding highways but increasing travel choices; not just speeding up all processes but exploring the slow city; not just training more doctors but changing the hierarchical structure of modern medicine). (5) Ensuring performance indicators are linked to the direction SEQ seeks to move toward and (6) Creating transitional strategies and cultures to move from the industrial era to the digital/sustainable era.
Which future do you want for SEQ 2026?
 For additional scenarios, see the work of Phillip Daffara at www.futuresense.org.au. Also see Steve Gould – <firstname.lastname@example.org> who focuses on: divided seq; developmentalist seq; outlier seq and green villages seq.
 First thought of by social planner and Brisbane resident Jennifer Bartlett in 2004.