What does economic development really involve?

why review this?

Over the past several years, the has been a swing back to conservative governments in most western countries. In Australia we have seen this at State, local and now national levels. A common theme of these governments has been to get their place moving again by prioritising economic development, reducing red and green tape, and facilitating the development industry.

In part, this has been a response to the years of relative economic doldrums that followed the GFC (which in turn followed probably the longest sustained economic boom of modern history), and, I suspect, is also borne of a desire to turn against the environmentally focused policy priorities of some previous governments.

I believe democracy, notwithstanding some issues with our systems, is the best form of government, and so readily accept that this is the will of the communities and countries involved. What I want to say is that, in pursuing this agenda, there is a need to understand some of its implications for planning our communities.

And my point is…

For an economic development program to be successful, the following need to be factored in:

1. The importance of a properly balanced transport system to a well functioning economy. This means all modes of transport (private vehicles, public transport/transit, walking, cycling) are facilitated, in the best mix to ensure people, goods and services can move efficiently. In doesn’t mean only more roads – indeed, it may mean a different mix of transport using the existing space available for transport (mainly roads in most places).
2. The economic benefit of sufficient housing in the right places. This means housing is available in locations that allow people the option of living close to economic production areas and at a price that people working in those areas can afford. It does not mean endless suburban expansion, which can be a heavily subsidised drag on long term economic performance.
3. The economic dividend of well designed cities which offer quality urban environments, including a diversity of land use mix and wel designed public realm areas attractive and lively areas that add interest, enjoyment and diversity to city life.
4. The health and therefore economic dividends of cities that promote integration of land use with balanced transport outcomes, and integration of nature into the urban environment.
5. That economics is about the wise and efficient use of resources. Those resources include our environment – our air, water, land and natural ecosystems.
6. The economic drivers of the future in the western world are largely not those of the past. Manufacturing in these countries is largely no longer competitive in the world economy, and new industries and economic opportunity are about knowledge, and clusters such as education, health and technology.

Since I first typed out these thoughts in draft form, our Queensland government has advanced its Queensland Plan process to develop its top 10 priorities – see here my Facebook post that passes on a summary provided by Gladstone Mayor Gail Sellers, following the community forum about this over the last two days. Even though they are expressed in very high level language, these provide me with some hope. Time will tell!

Greg Vann
October 2013

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