It's clear that (in non-lockdown times) the nation's regions are booming. Whether it's a jump in domestic tourism or people seeking a 'tree change', we can see that the roads are congested, the main streets are busier and the real estate market continues to head north. This prompts the question, can we handle the race to the regions?
Since the pandemic, it's become clearer to the city slickers that life outside the city limits is not only viable, but actually preferable. Workplaces are becoming more flexible meaning people can work hundreds of kilometres away from each other and still work as a successful team. This flexibility, along with the rising cost of city living, is driving people west, or north, or south, or any way that is away from the city.
It's worked for small businesses, especially in those in tourism, that were hit so hard by the initial stages of the pandemic, but we need to consider whether our regional cities and towns are really up for the task?
Is the traffic flow right for high volumes of traffic? Are there bypasses, roundabouts and traffic lights where they need to be? Can the infrastructure take it?
Travelling back to regional NSW from Sydney on Sunday, it became apparent that the roads are taking a hit. For instance, on the Great Western Highway in NSW, roadworks slowed down large volumes of traffic for at least 100 kilometres between two regional cities.
But what about main streets? Are there enough facilities for people wandering around on weekends, are the public toilets up to scratch, are there enough park benches? Or are there too many empty-shop windows?
The real estate has been jaw-droppingly active for months in regional areas across Australia. Properties are fetching record amounts regularly. People who have been saving for house deposits have had to rethink and refinance to facilitate the rising house prices. Some of the problems that used to belong to the big cities have been transported to the regions with the tree changers.
We have seen with the recent rural health inquiry that health services in the regions have significant problems and need a lot of attention and problems with childcare shortages in many regional cities and towns.
In fact, after one confirmed Covid case in a NSW regional town, the mayor told people this week to be careful as health resources meant " if anybody gets a serious infection they'll have to be shipped out of town".
But there are some communities taking charge, too. Our podcast introduced you to the community solar farms which are empowering small towns. From Denmark, Western Australia, to Daylesford and Yackandandah in Victoria, people-power is real.
Governments at all levels will have to accept the challenges caused by this population shift. This race to the regions could see a revival for many places that have seen young people and families leave in droves previously. But rather than sitting back governments, businesses and community groups need to work together and actively make the most of this opportunity, or it might just pass us by.
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