The Queensland government recently launched a call for ideas to shape a revised plan for the future of Southeast Queensland.

The deputy premier and minister for infrastructure, local government and planning, Jackie Trad spoke recently of the opportunities for Southeast Queenslanders to grow communities sustainably and protect the region’s amenity – its environs, facilities, services and values.

This plan will consider consequences for the next 50 years. A 20-year plan will underpin the 50-year vision.

However, a long-term plan can’t properly underpin a vision without engaging many of Southeast Queensland’s stakeholders and visitors. It must also use appropriate futures methods to help look ahead 50 years.

What role for futures thinking?

Professional futures studies tools help to map, anticipate and deepen understanding of complex local and global trends and challenges. Kelvin Spiller’s experience as CEO at Maroochy Shire Council, on the Sunshine Coast, includes a process of “visioning” to establish long-term priorities across the whole city.

Now CEO of Geelong City Council, Spiller believes such visioning is vital for successful local government:

… particularly when there are service implications worth tens of millions of dollars or infrastructure replacement is necessary.

He employs the following steps to bring about change in cities:

  • visioning with stakeholders;
  • service planning;
  • asset strategy planning;
  • encouraging leaders and managers via upskilling and guidance contained in legislation;
  • gaining a clear understanding of the council, government and community financial opportunities and constraints in relation to the vision as identified by the wider community. Link the infrastructure and social requirements of the vision to the finances available;
  • managing carefully the expectations, what can be achieved and timelines with the community, key stakeholders and governments; and
  • regularly refreshing the vision and strategic direction process with key stakeholders.

What the plan needs

The plan must consider the pressing and engaging futures that affect the region’s residents. These include the softer social and harder economic and environmental issues and solutions that must cascade throughout cities if we want to achieve sustainability.

Southeast Queensland’s population will grow to 5.3 million people in the next 25 years, according to Trad. This growth has implications for how Queenslanders settle and then relocate in the region given the demographics of age groups and lifestyle changes – for example, work opportunities, career changes and family developments.

One implication of accelerated change is how quickly preferences of Generations X and Y change from wanting co-location options, specialised services and village communities. Each generation is seeking services that match their particular needs.

Futures opportunities up for grabs

In visioning initiatives in the region’s cities, communities have created city visions. These called for the priorities to be areas of community and cultural connection, engagement, openness and environmental sustainability.

A priority is pride in cities, and how we sustain a socially just and connected society across all demographics. Taking care of youth through to the elderly, multiple cultures, the disabled and disempowered requires designing and innovating to meet future health, security, cultural, education and social needs.

Uniting people around behaviours that help maintain and enhance the quality of our ecosystems, pristine air, water, food and energy requirements will remain of vital importance.

Our economic interests include prospects for jobs and prosperity – not simply in creating wealth, but also in creating opportunities. Transport and technology challenges, the new digital economy and our knowledge economy factor highly.

Our capacity to connect regionally to globally is also critical. Economic hotspots around the globe are shifting, as are the cities, mega-cities and cultures we network with.

Questions remain

The plan’s strengths are in thinking about issues dealing with infrastructure and land use. Yet, in proposing the plan’s revision, some questions about “softer” issues remain unanswered:

  1. In considering long-term consequences, will the plan help the creation of innovative futures networks that empower hard-to-reach communities alongside policymakers, businesses, NGOs, consultants and universities? And will it legislate for more and better community engagement standards by cities in the region?
  2. Given the projected population growth and accelerating pace of technological and climate change, will the plan encourage cities to develop city-wide visions and community plans to help them consider the opportunities and challenges ahead?
  3. What issues will the plan translate into strategy and actions to tackle regional challenges? Will these include health, education, policing and encouragement of jobs that create sustainable futures?

Answers to these questions will depend largely on how stakeholders, community members and interested persons respond to the call for feedback.