I'm heading eight years into the future to imagine Lismore in 2020. The major change in the community has been the whole-hearted embrace of ideas of sustainability. By that I don't simply mean economical sustainability (though that is very important), but also environmental and social sustainability. As a community we made the decision to balance all these elements in a way that is fair to us all including our future generations.
The first thing that strikes visitors to the city itself is the number of trees in the streets, especially fruit trees. Occasional signs ask people to pick the fruit for themselves and their families. Visitors are very impressed by the generosity of the community. The fruit trees are part of the urban food gardens policy that Council, in partnership with the community, initiated eight years ago to encourage urban communities to grow more food along footpaths and on appropriate vacant land. The policy has had significant payoffs in building better community relationships improving nutrition and reducing obesity.
The 'feel' of the city area is very different too. For a start there are many more people around. This is a result of the increase in density and infill development. Housing is much more affordable because of the increase in supply. 'Shop top' housing has finally become a reality with more people living in the CBD. Because of the increased numbers of people public transport has become more economic with low-cost minibuses everywhere. There are also many more people cycling and walking. Lismore Park has been opened up. The visually awful concrete drains have been replaced with an amazing network of ponds and reed beds flowing past walking/cycling paths. People move easily between the CBD and the Lismore Square. The atmosphere of the city is vibrant yet relaxed, as a country city should be.
The Wilsons River is becoming a major focus of the town again with Magellan Street taking people to a regenerated entertainment area that overlooks the river and connects to walking/cycling paths.
Economically the city is being reinvigorated as fewer people go to other areas to shop. Shopping has become such a pleasant and varied experience in Lismore that it is drawing people from other areas. The work of the Lismore Leaders group has reinforced Lismore's role as the regional centre for the North Coast, leading to increased government expenditure in health, education and other areas.
Rural areas are also experiencing significant change and invigoration. Coal seam gas has been banished from the Northern Rivers because of its negative impacts and massive community resistance. Council's Biodiversity Plan has been changed into a Sustainability Plan for the rural sector. This has been brought about by the collaboration of farmers, council, environmentalists and government. The aim of the plan has been to integrate the needs of farmers with funding for carbon farming and environmental protection and the development of local markets for locally produced food.
Building on the great achievement of this area leading the way by installing a record number of solar panels has been the successful community-funded alternative energy projects in wind and solar power, as well as removing most electric hot water systems in the area. This region has seen the amount of carbon dioxide it produces plummet because of these initiatives.
Culturally Lismore is even stronger. The Lantern Parade, Lismore's signature event, has become a week-long festival celebrating art, food and culture crowned by an ever growing Lantern Parade. Through the recognition of the arts as a major economic driver in the region, a new regional gallery is being constructed in the amazing heart of Lismore, the town square opposite the library.
Other communities are wanting to know the secret of Lismore's success. We say it is the passion and commitment of the Lismore community and the dedication to work through differences with discussion and compromise for the benefit of all.