Future Brisbane can be strong, vibrant and inclusive

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5 September 

Debbie Smith - Brisbane Managing Partner, PwC. This article first appeared in The Courier Mail, 5 September 2017

Brisbane is growing quickly, whether we’re ready for it or not. Over the course of 20 years (from 2011 up to 2031) close to a million more people are likely to call Brisbane home.

Already we live in a great city with a laid back style, great services, spectacular weather and affordable housing, and it’s clear why many more people want to move here. But we will need to work together to plan for this growth so that our current lifestyle is improved rather than challenged.

As a city we have some big questions to ask. Where will all these new people live? Where will they work? How will our critical systems like transport, health and education accommodate this influx in demand?

Looking at other major cities we see stresses affecting residents’ day to day lives. Congestion is often the biggest contributor, and with around 500,000 more cars to be on Brisbane roads in the future, local residents could be spending up to 55 more minutes commuting each day without some interventions in our transport network. And congestion is more than a lifestyle problem - it could affect our productivity by some $5 billion a year by 2031.

The move to apartment living will also accelerate the demand for inner city schools, many of which have limited space for additional classrooms and more facilities. We may need to challenge the traditional thinking around schools and we might see them built up rather than out to accommodate more students and new ways of learning.

We also need to keep thinking about housing policy. One advantage that Brisbane has over other Australian cities is comparatively affordable homes. But as many families know, the great Australian dream of owning your own home is starting to become no longer achievable and renting is a more affordable option. With around 35 per cent of households in Brisbane currently renting, stable, secure and well located rental accommodation will be crucial to Brisbane’s future success.

To stay ahead of this growth we need to look at our city holistically and work together to develop the right solutions. So what are our options?

It may very well be that decentralising economic activity, providing more opportunities for workers to enjoy life closer to their employment and encouraging new behaviors will help us manage this growth.

Consider that more than 50 per cent of employment is currently concentrated in Brisbane’s CBD. Given congestion projections, perhaps the CBD can no longer remain the main hub of economic activity. Nor can we afford to rely on continued urban sprawl, as connecting outer suburbs to inner city Brisbane will place undue pressure on the transport network. It may be that developing new precincts and communities of practice in underutilised parts of the city is the best approach.

We also need to understand who is principally driving the increase in population and the facilities and services we will need. For example, if it is overseas students, our focus has to be on universities and learning centres and ensuring there is appropriate student accommodation and amenities close to these centres.

We also want to keep our students in Brisbane after they graduate and we must understand the jobs and skills that will be needed for them in the future. In addition, how are we helping them become active members of their communities so they make the friendships and connections that will keep them here for the long term?

Similarly, if Brisbane’s “New World City” status is to attract startups and small tech businesses, the opportunity may be for flexible, connected and collaborative urban precincts where these companies operate and their employees can also life close by with good amenities.

The Future of Brisbane is bright and the time is now to work together to build the city that we want. But government will be unable to solve all these challenges on their own and will not be able to afford to. As we go forward new ideas will be required and new perspectives needed on funding, revenue generation and incentivizing investment. Through listening to each other, sharing ideas and working together Future Brisbane can be strong, vibrant and inclusive.

Together we can make liveable, doable.

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