Let's Get Place Right and the Rest Will Follow

Let's Get Place Right and the Rest Will Follow

Published 24 August 2019, The Courier, Ballarat

Twelve months ago, in the middle of a Ballarat winter, my wife and I decided not to go and live on the Gold Coast. At that time, I was consulting to the Gold Coast Suns Football Club, where I was spending three to five days per week working at the club and living 150 metres from the Nobbies Beach Surf Club.

Life on the coast and in Ballarat could not have been more different. On the coast it was shorts, early-morning runs in the sunshine and balmy evenings eating alfresco style; in Ballarat it was my winter jacket, exercising in the damp darkness and spending my evenings in front of an open fire.

So when I was offered a full-time role with the Suns, the decision to move seemed a no-brainer. Who would not want to live on the coast and work with an AFL football club destined to improve? As it turned out, the decision was far from a no-brainer. The job was everything I could have hoped for working in professional sport with just one problem…we didn’t want to leave Ballarat.

The community we live in has such a strong pull. It connects us to people and place and gives us meaning and purpose in our lives. A “job” can provide meaning, purpose and people, but the Gold Coast was not the “place” we wanted to be. Place cannot be measured in quantifiable terms; place is subjective and powerful.

There has been a recent discussion in the media (including The Courier) about a report called Regional Population Growth – Are We Ready? In launching the report, Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes challenged us to think more about place when making decisions about our future.

Place-based decision-making focuses on communities in collaboration with business, industry and government. Placed-based solutions consider the integration of the community’s needs first and, when done effectively, deliver great economic development outcomes. This is transformational thinking for many of our decision-makers who typically focus on economic development outcomes as the starting point.

In a place-based approach, economic development is not a starting point; rather, it is an outcome.

The Gold Coast Suns Football Club will be successful when players decide it’s a “place” to stay. Their decisions will be influenced heavily by how well connected they are to the community, how strongly their sense of belonging is, and how they feel they can thrive in the environment – their place.

In its report on Planning Liveable Cities released in December 2018, Infrastructure Australia recommends “…a greater focus on strategic-level planning at a ‘place’ level, including prioritising collaboration with the community to identify social, environmental and economic priorities that should not be compromised in order to cater for growth.”

I have heard much talk about Ballarat’s potential population size. Is it 150, 200 or 300,000? I don’t know the answer to this, and I’m not sure that it’s relevant. It’s like asking how many premierships do you think we can win. Instead of seeking to solve the issue of numbers, let’s talk about the quality of the place we want to live, work and play in. If we get the place right, people will thrive and social, environmental and economic outcomes will follow.

To do this we need a collaborative effort. The Gold Coast Suns will not win a premiership with just a few highly talented players – remember Gary Ablett Jnr. The Suns needs a whole-club approach to realise what is possible.

We need to collaborate to ensure our place delivers the social, environmental and economic needs for our future. The community – in collaboration with government, business, industry, sport, arts and culture, tourism, health, education, history, transport, and technology – will decided what type of place we have. It’s through collaboration that we will decide how we want the place to feel, how we want to move around, and how we want to connect with each other.

It’s our community – our people – that will determine our purpose and meaning and will help shape the place we want.

Wearing my Committee for Ballarat hat, I challenge us to work together – community, government, business and industry – to lead the discussion about our future and then promote (and promote and promote) the great things the place has to offer. This is not at the expense of growth nor economic development; rather, it will enable both.

Our community needs its leaders to be enablers who can facilitate collaboration that will shape our future in a way that considers our place first and allows people to thrive.

Michael Poulton
CEO, Committee for Ballarat.