Goldilocks cities become the new metropolis

Change is coming...actually, it is already here. Disruption in our cities is happening so rapidly that people are challenging previous thinking about where to live, work and play, and now regional cities are getting a look in. The nationwide shift to suburbia may have started in the early 20th century, however the acceleration has reached a new level over the past 12 months. Smaller town centres or 'Goldilocks Cities' - not too big, not too small, just close enough to capital cities to enjoy the benefits, are more in demand.

The rise of remote working will bring transformative changes.  It will not however, be enough to just plan for growth in regional cities, it is imperative to plan well, strategically and for the long term. We sat down to speak with a few of our regional Councils to understand what they are seeing in their local areas and what they foresee the future to look like in their towns.

Mark Lourigan
Manager Economic Development
Fraser Coast Regional Council

Tony Dickson
Principal - Urban Design
Place Design Group

David Keenan
CEO
Mount Isa Regional Council

Paul Martins
Chief Economic Development Officer
Moreton Bay Regional Council

Q1

COVID HAS HAD MANY NEGATIVE IMPACTS ON THE WORLD, HOWEVER, THERE HAVE ALSO BEEN SOME SILVER LININGS, ONE BEING THE RENEWED INTEREST IN LIVING AND WORKING REMOTELY IN REGIONAL TOWNS.  HAVE YOU SEEN THIS OCCUR IN YOUR REGION AND HAS THIS BEEN AS POSITIVE AS IT IS PORTRAYED IN THE MEDIA?

“There is significant evidence of increases in the number of property searches from people in Victoria and New South Wales.  This has been seen as a positive by the media, especially in a place like Mount Isa where there are a significant number of jobs available.  Whilst the full extent of migration to the Mount Isa region has not yet been quantified it is likely that the region will see a growth in population over the next 12 months, especially if some of the jobs are to be filled.”

David Keenan

“We are seeing the interest from new residents matched with interest from businesses to re-locate or expand their operations in the Moreton Bay region and create new jobs for locals. The reporting has generally been positive with people understanding that the quality of life we have here in Queensland and specifically in the Moreton Bay region, is something that others also aspire to.  Locals just want to make sure that infrastructure and services keep up with the population increase.” 

Paul Martins

“With remote working on the rise, our local real estate agents have seen an increase of people buying property sight unseen, away from their interstate city locations. Construction is at a real high, with most being owner occupiers, as opposed to purchasing for rental investments.” 

Mark Lourigan

Q2

Regional towns have such rich character, history and commitment to community, how do you ensure your town remains a timeless destination that people want to visit, whilst maintaining a sense of community?

“We are very fortunate that Hervey Bay, Fraser Island, Maryborough and surrounds have such specific characteristics and together form the basis for relaxing and enriching experiences. Places like Maryborough connect people to place through the celebration of their rich history, via architecture, museums, and history trails.  For the Fraser Coast it is more about protecting and promoting the entire features of the region, rather than just the well-known attractions, for example whale watching in Hervey Bay.”

 

Mark Lourigan

“Three things always capture my attention in regional towns: the heightened sense of local pride or belonging; the physical and cultural reminders of history are more pervasive;
and there is a legible relationship with the landscape or natural setting that drives townscape character. For me, understanding local peoples’ values and aspirations, exploring the role of their history in shaping community and place and drawing meaning and inspiration from the landscape are the fundamental considerations for place-responsive growth or change.”

Tony Dickson

“Local Government has an important role in bringing people to the region, whether they be visitors or future residents.  It is therefore really important that local governments work closely with tourism operators, and civic leaders to promote the region through quality events and the development of interpretation experiences that explain the importance of the region, and the “must do” experiences for residents and visitors alike.  It is very important that local residents have ownership and familiarity of interpretation centres and community assets, whether they be libraries, museums, recreational facilities or natural assets.  And should be able to champion the tourism infrastructure and experiences of a region to visitors, as well as friends and families.”

 

David Keenan

Q3

with interstate migration on the rise, falling for the "goldilocks" principles, not too big but not too small and just close enough to capital cities to enjoy the perks. Do you see this transition sustainable, or will people eventually move back to bigger cities due to the lack of infrastructure or creature comforts?

“Research by Corelogic suggests more than 25,000 people have moved to Queensland during the past financial year, which equates to a rate 90% above the decade average. Remote work arrangements have made it possible for people to move away, and many are choosing regional areas. However, there could be potential challenges in keeping people in regional locations long term without the proportionate investment in infrastructure and essential services. The issue is particularly acute for retention of young people in regional towns who require access to broader employment, training, and education opportunities.”

 

Tony Dickson

“In many regional areas there is actually more infrastructure and creature comforts.  In a regional area you can be the only person in the swimming pool lane and the sporting grounds are of a high standard. Connectivity levels have increased substantially, allowing existing businesses to expand and new businesses to consider relocation. There are no lines at the supermarkets and people can get more involved in the community through volunteer roles or sporting clubs. There is often no paid parking in regional areas and the pace of life can be what you make it, rather than something that is imposed upon you by others. As Australia ages and life expectancy increases there will be a continued move towards regional areas. And with the rate of change in technology this will continue to have an impact on improving lifestyles.”

 

David Keenan

“Companies are looking to put their business operations closer to where their staff live. While they may maintain a CBD presence, they are looking to establish some common offices/facilities in the region so their staff can have a base of operations which is of good quality and close to home and local amenity. This has advantages for a region on the periphery of a capital city, because it may make a slightly longer commute on less days more acceptable and offer a better family lifestyle on weekends. But not everyone can work from home. Relocating businesses are also seeking to develop networks in the region which enable them to collaborate and innovate, and at Council we support them to create these connections and collaborations.”

 

Paul Martins

Q4

with the government grants on offer to revitalise infrastructure, what ramifications would there be for regional cities and towns that have made this investment towards growth if people decide that regional living isn't for them. Where would this leave the town?

“I think realistically, there will be people that decide that regional living is not for them. However, at this stage, all signs are pointing towards this being the minority, not the majority, especially with remote working becoming more accepted and with regional centres taking up the development path as more people move to their region.”

 

Mark Lourigan

“People have always had a choice, but their employer has perhaps not been as amenable as they are now for new ‘remote first’ working opportunities. COVID-19 and advancements in technology now mean that the genie is out of the bottle, and while we will always have active CBDs, a new wave of regional centres is definitely on the rise and will better complement these centres. It is not a ‘win-lose’ scenario, it’s about better work-life outcomes for all, improving self-containment and local economic activation. We can all participate and win.”

Paul Martins

“There is a great
opportunity here to leverage population growth and improve regional services
and lifestyle amenity. Local communities could benefit from a dispersed
physical business geography through the greater demand created for local
professional, service and leisure activity. It’s an exciting and transformative
time for regional centres and if we get it right, our once ‘holiday home’ could
be our new ‘home’.”

Tony Dickson

Q5

due to an increase of regional population, have you noticed an increase of new businesses making the move as well?

“This has always been a factor for Hervey Bay.  However, the momentum for population and business growth due to the recent trend to move to the regions, has made Hervey Bay and the wider Fraser Coast, a region one that comes up more readily on people’s radars. We have noticed Maryborough experience growth in manufacturing and advanced manufacturing industries, with the need for 1000s of workers and professionals in the future.”

 

Mark Lourigan

“We are already seeing businesses looking to relocate key components of their operations. There also appear to be more home-based businesses establishing in regional areas, especially boutique retail and small-scale manufacturing.”

 

David Keenan

“The number of businesses wanting to relocate or expand to the Moreton Bay Region is significant. We have just launched a new Regional Economic Development Strategy, which has put a sharp focus on Trade and Investment and attracting new business and supporting the creation of jobs in our Bigger, Bolder and Brighter region. We’re really pleased with the response we have received – the future looks good.”

 

Paul Martins