Council elections: Need for honest growth debate in 2016
You may have noticed the city's letterboxes, airwaves, train stations and social media feeds are becoming saturated with campaign messages for March's council elections.
It has been clear for some months that development will be made a central theme of the Brisbane City Council election.
Unfortunately, development is an easy political target, despite the fact that a growing region is not only desirable, but also inevitable.
In fact, it is the inevitability of population growth that must shape the thinking and rhetoric of all current and aspiring local politicians in the lead up to the March poll.
Criticising "bad development" is safe territory when left open-ended and ill-defined. Unfortunately, this anti-growth message frequently evades proper scrutiny. It also does not add to an informed discussion with the community about what positive growth actually looks and feels like.
Let's fast forward from 2016 to 2036 – greater Brisbane's population will have grown from 2.3 million to 3.4 million. The approach taken by councils across the south-east over these two decades could lead to two very different futures.
Councils could accommodate expected population growth by ensuring local plans allow for the new homes needed across the south-east, contributing to an affordable and liveable region into the future.
The alternative is that council plans don't allow for enough new homes, and we find ourselves in the midst of a Sydney-style affordability crisis where young people cannot afford to live in the community in which they grew up.
Affordable housing doesn't happen by accident, it is the consequence of planning that facilitates new development and redevelopment over a long period of time.
This requires a degree of flexibility and adaptability in our plans so that they can respond to factors that change over time. A rigid approach to planning will stifle innovation and potentially lead to adverse outcomes.
None of us would expect a council to still be operating with exactly the same planning rules they had in place in the 1950s. Logically, then, we must accept that things won't stay static into the future.
Of course this will mean that parts of Brisbane and the surrounding areas will change. The exact timing and nature of this change will be hard to predict, and this uncertainty can understandably be a cause of concern in our community at times.
That is why community engagement about planning for the future is so important.
But our current and aspiring local leaders undertaking this engagement must resist taking the easy road and talking down growth and painting development as a negative.
To maintain our enviable lifestyle for future generations, we will need local leaders who are positive about the way development can add to our cities and suburbs.
There is no doubt that much of the built form that has emerged over the past decade has done exactly this. Think of the many cafes, restaurants, shops and the new and often unique public spaces that have been created across the south-east.
Not only is new development across the south-east providing new housing for families, it is providing us with new high quality places to recreate and interact. Building on this and continuing to promote choice and diversity into the future should be the aim of every local government.
It is in this context that the 2016 council elections should be an honest public discussion about growth, not about how a local politician plans to stop it.
The truth is, they can't.
All they can do is push the negative consequences of failing to plan for growth onto a future generation.
Next month's election need to be about harnessing the opportunities of growth to ensure a liveable and affordable city for the next generation.
First published in the Brisbane Times, 10 February 2016.