IMAGINE, if you will, that it’s 2037 in Greater Brisbane. As we reflect on the past 20 years, it’s hard at times to imagine how we managed to dodge some bullets and capitalise on the wave of change that has swept the globe.
Brisbane’s positioning as a world city with its enviable climate and lifestyle showcased by the 2014 G20 made it a drawcard for people everywhere. We have become a place that the best and the brightest have chosen as their home.
In this stunningly beautiful region, another 1.4 million new arrivals joined us from other parts of Australia and from across the globe. This sort of population explosion 50 years ago may have spelt disaster but the arrival of new technology in the nick of time allowed us to manage things, but only just.
Our capital city of Brisbane and the region today is stronger and more vibrant and a centre of innovation and creativity but it didn’t happen by accident.
As the region has grown we have kept faith with the 2005 South East Queensland Regional Plan and have constrained growth to designated locations, saving green space and protecting the environment.
Sure, there is a lot more suburbia today but thankfully, it’s been done a lot more cleverly than in the past.
Additionally, far more people choose apartment living in the inner city or in the higher density growth areas around places like Mt Gravatt, Strathpine and Caboolture.
The town planning profession has played a great role with the property industry and local government to deliver new communities with embedded jobs that are all about people.
As the wave of disruption from technology changed our world, we managed to reset our education system and give our kids the skills to adapt and thrive.
This wasn’t easy. So many of our teachers were challenged by the need to learn new skills in coding and embrace a stronger emphasis on Science Technology Engineering and Maths.
Nevertheless, clear policy direction by Government, strong leadership by politicians and educators and the fantastic example of Queensland’s growing band of technology entrepreneurs paved the way for significant changes in our schools.
The thing that really made the difference though was that, while our education system is now strong on the basics, it produces individuals who can think laterally, express themselves freely and believe that no dream or goal is beyond them.
With these enthusiastic young people, and despite at times contradictory messages and economic policies from government, a new entrepreneurial culture has been built.
Capitalising on our traditional economic strengths, we have built on these foundations and the research work of our great universities to create new businesses in robotics, 3D printing, biotechnology, nanotechnology, advanced materials and mining, oil and gas technology.
The combination of highly creative skills and advanced manufacturing technology means that we now produce niche products that are exported globally.
These days, mums and dads want their kids to be start-up entrepreneurs.
While we have seen significant job losses in many traditional sectors, other parts of the economy have boomed.
A growing aged population has seen an explosion in opportunities in the provision of health care, retirement and aged care.
With more cashed-up retirees across Australia, Brisbane has benefited from the boom in travel and leisure activities, arts and cultural entertainment.
Perhaps the most exciting technology development is the breakthrough by the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland which, in finding a cure for Alzheimers, also identified potential mechanisms to slow the ageing process and improve people’s quality of life.
Luckily, as the wave of new arrivals placed unprecedented pressure on our infrastructure, the new technology provided solutions just when we needed them.
While full self-driving vehicles have not yet been approved for use on our roads, the implementation of the SEQ TransFlo network traffic system allowed for a dramatic improvement in utilisation of our road network.
Being able to book a traffic slot for the daily commute, with smart route planning, has not only been fantastic for personal convenience but it has reduced congestion and travel time on our roads by 20 per cent.
The big spin-off has been that scarce infrastructure dollars were able to be diverted to our health care and education systems.
In a similar way, we have been able to use technology to redesign our public transport system to make it serve more people effectively and conveniently.
Network route planning, integration between rail, bus and the taxi and ride-share systems and smart apps have enabled a quiet revolution to take place.
Critically, the use of modern train-control systems and the move to driverless operations have dramatically improved train frequency and the level of services on the existing network.
This has eliminated the need for the unaffordable and unfunded cross-river rail project and the diversion of dollars to provide better funding for outer suburban services.
Of course, it hasn’t all been positive.
The “war on drugs” was lost 10 years ago and while we decided to treat it as a public health issue, the jury is still out as to whether we have turned the tide on its corrosive effects on our community.
We continue to be a high-cost society.
The cost of living is expensive and, ironically, because of regional plan and land-use policies that restrict supply, housing affordability is an ongoing issue.
Brisbane is still very vulnerable to flooding and yet our water supply is not secure, due to a lack of will to overcome environmental concerns and build new dams.
The past 20 years has seen dramatic changes in world and our own national politics.
At times the cacophony of noise drowns out the sense that we have made progress and obscures the fact that people still live their lives, bring up their families and make their own contribution to our community.
Thankfully, this is still most assuredly the case.
Campbell Newman is a commentator with Sky News Australia and a self-employed businessman. He served as lord mayor of Brisbane from 2004-11 and premier of Queensland from 2012-15