So, I’m on record in saying that I think it is borderline reckless to plan for cities even 5 years from now, because the pace of change and advances in technology will mean our plans, whatever they were, will probably be wrong. But perhaps that doesn’t bode well for Brisbane and us defining what we want our city to be and look like 25 years from now. What we know is it will be different, but how different, well I think that is in part up to us to set a framework and plan for how our city evolves and manages this inevitable technification. I have some ideas on 10 principles that can be used to future proof cities and investment decisions in major city assets and infrastructure. And to me, thinking about how our city will evolve and adapt is as important as hypothesizing about what the city may be like.
Because if we hypothesise, it might be a city we don’t like. Picture the street outside your house/ apartment in 20 years’ time. Driverless Ubers dart in and out of the traffic, next to autonomous buses and shuttles ferrying us on the last bit of our commute to or from work; delivery drones and robots drop parcels and groceries off on doorsteps, whilst dockless bikes clutter up our footpaths; digital advertising flashes and invades our lives on every street corner and sensors, cameras and wifi connectors hang like gargoyles from buildings – unfolding before you is complete chaos. And whilst not what I want (or think) our cities will become, the reality is that technology is reshaping our cities, but we haven’t changed the building blocks or approaches to cities in response to this technology.
Beyond what we know is going to change, I think the equally important question to ask, is what isn’t going to change, or what don’t we want to change. Because if it’s important or in fact part of the DNA of what makes Brisbane ‘Brisbane’ then we can protect that and potentially even use technology to enhance and supercharge those bits of Brisbane to make them even better. If we can’t plan with any certainty of what might happen, what do we do? Well, interestingly, the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, noted in a recent article that he gets asked very regularly what is going to change in the next 10 years, but no one ever asks him what is NOT going to change. He suggests that it is this missing second question that is more important, because you can build a business strategy (or cities – my words not his) around the things that are stable in time.
Ultimately, I see this fundamentally being about making decisions today, with the best information we have at hand, with an eye to the future. And equally, if we know there is uncertainty on the future of something or likely evolution, but don’t know what that is, then at least make sure the decisions we make today don’t preclude or rule out future innovation and evolution! It is about knowing what you know, and what you don’t know, and being smart enough to know the difference and keep an open mind to the future.
Chris Isles, Executive Director, Planning
Place Design Group
Read Chris’s contribution to The Courier-Mail’s Future SEQ Series via this article (subscription may be required to view).