WhatIF Lab: My Future Town

Participant's ‘My Future Town’ story.

The ‘My Future Town’ project used an arts-based approach to engage young people in town planning processes. In partnership with Western Downs Regional Council, we ran two-day creative writing workshops for high school students in Tara, Chinchilla, Jandowae, and Dalby. Participants were also given the option to continue working on longer pieces of writing with our editorial support. The anthology of student work that has emerged from the project will be launched in July 2023. 

The Challenge 

Young people will live in the towns we plan in the present but are rarely invited to contribute to that planning. They are central to the future socio-economic sustainability of regional towns, and issues of population growth. As such, this project was geared toward better understanding their experiences and needs, in addition to building their connections to each other and their local community. 

The project was also concerned with addressing a lack of evidence for how to best incorporate a creative arts approach. While the crucial role of the arts in promoting community cohesion and human flourishing is increasingly recognised, evidence for impact and best practice is often sought only after a project’s design and execution.  

The Solution 

Developed and led by award-winning Australian author, Dr Isobelle Carmody, the two-day workshops focused on science fiction and the craft of world-building: the techniques that writers use to craft imaginary places and communities. Workshop activities supported students to reflect on their experiences of their towns and imagine a variety of future scenarios and stories. 

This focus on science fiction and worldbuilding ensured that questions of place-making, storytelling, and the future were central to the project’s design and outputs. World-building is directly concerned with imagining a different – hopefully better – world and what it would like to live there. By asking participants to imagine the future of their town through story and setting, participants were also invited to reflect critically on their town’s ‘present’. The use of storytelling also renders abstract forecasts of technological or climate-driven change more tangible and relatable for participants, potentially giving their responses and ideas added value.  

The Impact 

All aspects of the project design and execution were led by creative writers, in collaboration with a local town planner. The project data – a mix of observation, interviews, textual analysis, and surveys – will contribute to the growing evidence base for the creative arts’ impact on communities, as well as the influence of communities on artistic practice. The project will also help urban planners, academics and policy makers better understand everyday people's experiences of regional towns and their hopes and fears for the future. 

In addition to its contributions to scholarship and policy, the project was also designed to benefit its young participants in a variety of ways: having their own creativity and ideas about the future taken seriously by a well-known author, academics, and policy makers; developing their knowledge and practice in the craft of worldbuilding and creative writing; the opportunity to have their own creative work and ideas published and widely shared in their communities and beyond; and engagement with their peers and the broader community, giving them a sense of belonging and agency.