Look what we’re building…

Published on  by Joann Rutherford

It’s 2019 and there’s no doubt that it’s a happy time of prosperity and confidence in Australia… no, I’m not being sarcastic. Sure, our banks have behaved shamefully, house prices are dropping, our sports teams are having a dry spell, and our politicians seem, well, just pretty confused about what their job is. By those measures it’s easy to despair. But there are many other indications that we’re actually doing ok.

I have the immense privilege of catching the ferry to work each day. I walk out of Circular Quay and am met with steel fences dressed with state government messages touting the success that will be the city’s new light rail. Then I navigate around and find that someone has been cutting skyscraper-sized holes in one direction, while scaffolding and sheeting cloak a building in the other. While noisy, ugly and inconvenient, understanding the economic confidence that this unprecedented development in our cities, towns, and industries represents is exhilarating.

Melbourne is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, Canberra’s unnecessary (according to Canberrans) light rail is underway, Perth has enjoyed it’s first year with an enormous new stadium, 3 of Brisbane’s top 10 tallest buildings are currently under construction, there are about 680 cranes in our skies, and the number of major transport projects in progress is unprecedented.

A few years ago I went on holiday to Malaysian Borneo- an area of stunning coastline, dense jungles, deep rivers, orangutans… and half-finished towns. There’d be a modern fish market building without bathroom facilities,  a grungy ancient wharf extending out of a brand new visitor centre, 8 storey apartment buildings with sparkling shopfronts while the top three floors sat vacant and crumbling, state of the art coaches on roads that would change dramatically from freshly sealed to pot-hole riddled dirt. It was the first time that I really sensed a society having a crisis of confidence. Conversations with locals revealed a reluctance to consider a path in terms of how they lived and worked other than the one they were currently on (I won’t delve into Malaysian politics but the public revelations of corruption in the government were very fresh at that time). In contrast, nearly everyone I know in Australia is either taking time off, has taken time off, is changing jobs, is going on an extended holidays, is relocating with their family, is considering retirement, is moving to part-time work or is investing their savings in a start-up.

Like in an individual, confidence in a society stimulates healthy risk-taking, inspires innovation, and has a snowball effect making us better prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. It’s something that is too easy to take for granted. Change is uncomfortable, and when it looks like taller buildings, more neighbours, smaller apartments, roads closer to your front door, upgrades or extensions to historic buildings, and paddocks cluttered with tiny houses, it’s even frightening.

The preservation of the real and ambient factors that determine the lifestyles we love are essential as we grow as a country. Planned, considered, government-regulated development is key, despite the headaches and eye-rolling and outrage that it causes everyone in the property industry on a daily basis (myself included). However, I also think it’s important that the enthusiasm of those who are bold enough to develop our society isn’t perceived as blind ambition or greed. Of course, developers want to make a buck, but they also want to drive their children passed buildings, towns, railway stations, ports, homes, shopping centres, airports, offices, warehouses and parks that they’re proud to have brought to life.

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It’s imperative that we support that confidence by reinforcing the foundations for growth, and applaud those who are prepared to take the risks that are necessary to create the inspired buildings, infrastructure, technology, and ultimately the communities that maintain Australia as the best place in the world to call home.