One of the things people brag about when discussing the splendour of living in Geraldton is the laid back lifestyle. Everything is only 10 minutes away, a trip to the beach is usually met with ample parking and plenty of room to lay your towel, and a traffic jam is when you have to wait more than seven minutes at the lights.
These blessings are in part due to our small (compared to a capital city) population, our remote location and our proximity to the farming and rural sectors.
But lately there has been a strong push from many to increase the appeal of Geraldton to the world at large, driving population growth and growth in the economy. Many meetings, conferences, forums and debates have taken place over the last decade discussing how to best encourage growth and then exploit that growth in order to see the supposed quality of life improve for all of Geraldton's citizens.
Yet when the words "seven day trading" were mentioned recently a large percentage of the community's response was "no way!".
If, as a community, we have decided the need to appeal to tourists is high on our agenda, then certainly embracing seven day trading should be on the top of our list. If we are trying to convince people who are weighing up whether to move to Geraldton or not that Geraldton is more than a hick town with no eftpos at the local cinema, then deregulated trading would go a long way in helping.
But while we SAY we want the city to grow, and CLAIM we want more tourists, are we really prepared to embrace the growing pains that go along with such a direction? In fact, are they really growing pains? Won't the hassle of not being able to find a place to park, more expensive parking, higher rates, longer delays in traffic, and a crowded beach be permanent irreversible fixtures of the city if indeed we reach the goals we claim to aspire to?
With the buzz that has surrounded the word Oakajee over the last six years one could see in people's eye the glee at the thought that such a port could be built down the road, and maybe, just maybe, the same crazy real estate phenomenon that engulfed Karratha will repeat in Geraldton. And everyone who's a landowner will become overnight millionaires. But as we have witnessed in Karratha, and even Perth, the only people that benefit from such property price surges are people that own more than one property, or people willing to cash in and leave town. Selling your home to buy another a few suburbs over becomes drastically more difficult due to the higher stamp duty, and people who are renting or hoping to buy their first home in Geraldton would simply give up hope.
We would do well as residents of Geraldton to recognise the advantages we have of living in this city. It's easy to look at larger metropolises and complain at what we lack, but in this "ever-more-digital" age we find ourselves in, being remotely located geographically does not mean we are deprived of many services. With the rise in digital and internet based education, work from home set ups, high speed internet access with the NBN and the rapid growth of social media, we are as connected as anyone in a large city and have access to the same opportunities. Perhaps even more given we don't spend two hours of each day in traffic.
Does Geraldton really need to see a huge surge in population in order for our children to have access to the opportunities we want for them?
Having personally lived on the Sunshine Coast, I can attest to the headache that goes along with rapid population growth. Road building does not keep up with demand, hospitals and other public service infrastructure does not keep up with demand, and the rapid influx of people driving up property prices benefits only a few. The very thing that made you so happy to live in a place, the "lifestyle", is all but forgotten in the never ending push for "growth".
Does that mean we should oppose growth? I don't believe so. Geraldton will continue to grow in an evolutionary fashion as it should, in a manner that is both sustainable and tolerable. It should grow at a pace that the schools can keep up with, that the hospitals can service and that the roads can be planned for. We need enough highly qualified GP's, nurses and school teachers for the population we already have before we pull out all stops to increase the city's population.
And if you love living in Geraldton because of the lifestyle, then protect that at all costs.