The numbers are large, almost intimidating. The claim Ballarat’s population could reach 200,000 by 2040 may seem alarming when it only nudged the 100,000 mark in the last few years but patterns of growth if steady, can implement extraordinary change. If nothing else such numbers should be not be the gloomy augeries of vanishing charm but rather the harbinger of what must be done to keep what we love.
The oft touted population figure of 140,000 by 2031 is based on steady growth of two percent over the 15 years from the 2016 census population of 103,407. It is a growth rate with variations that Ballarat has experienced for over a decade so in itself is not an unrealistic expectation. Extrapolated over the extra nine years to 2040 this alone brings the LGA population to 166,323. If this two thirds jump is at a growth rate often touted as comfortable and manageable, it makes for a serious signal for our future. While it falls well short of the five plus percentage growth rates that have plagued the outer suburbs of Melbourne, it should also act as a sobering lesson. Put another way, the total population of Ballarat in 1967 was only 66,000 and it took fifty years for this to grow to 100,000. Now Ballarat looks set to add that entire population in 23 years.
The population figure of 200,000 therefore represents stronger growth but not by that much. The wonders of compound interest show how even incremental increases in this rate can have an exponential affect. In the case of the aspirational doubling of the population it only takes an increase form two percent growth to 2.75 percent growth to hit this mark. Put another way, 2070 new people are roughly calling Ballarat home now each year and it would only have to increase to about 2800 people to hit this mark.
But these are all only numbers. The important thing is they represent the benchmarks and the signals of what needs to be done and the critical lesson, as so many bloated cities have shown, is in the planning. Planning which understands the acute detail needed of what kind of population this is made up of, whether for instance it is predominantly young families or an older population, all requiring different services and infrastructure. Asking and answering where will all these people live, work, play and learn.
The attractions for growth now are clear; livability, character and affordability. Ensuring that these remain in 2040 is the great challenge worth working on now.