HOW can the Sunshine Coast retain its iconic character and charm while planning for future growth?
The answer is "strawberries".
Or more accurately, "enjoy your strawberries ... but hold the jam".
A who's who of the Sunshine Coast's business and academic leaders converged on the University of the Sunshine Coast last week for a day-long forum on sustainable villages.
The forum, held as part of USC and the council's Sunshine Coast Futures Conference Series, aimed to address the question: How do we get the balance right between identity, community, business and prosperity?
And while the forum's keynote speaker was a global leader in regional development, it was the Coast uni's own Professor Mike Hefferan who eloquently captured the spirit of the forum.
Prof Hefferan said the Coast needed to avoid creating "strawberry jam" when catering for future population growth. He said the Coast's "distinct and different" villages were like strawberries that needed to be nurtured. But what we needed to avoid was letting "jam" - or urban sprawl - spread between our villages, which had happened in some Gold Coast suburbs.
"This is an iconic place," Prof Hefferan said.
"This region has got significant problems but it's a damn good place.
"It's distinctive and damn near unique. It's a loose collection of quite different towns.
"We've got a number of larger places that are really distinctive and so different in character."
Prof Hefferan said while the Sunshine Coast needed to broaden its economic base, Brisbane would always provide employment for many of our residents.
"At the moment all we can see is a heap of utes going south in the morning," he said.
"We will not be able to grow the smart jobs fast enough (to provide work for all Sunshine Coast residents).
"We will always have the imbalance.
"So building up that link that gets a fast commute into town is something we really have to think about.
"It's amazing how little countries can get infrastructure. But here no one has invested in infrastructure.
"The fact that we have a single rail here and you have to wait for a goods train is outrageous. We've got to have a more mature link to Brisbane."
Mayor Mark Jamieson told the conference we should look to London for inspiration.
"London has been called the city of villages. Many of the world's most famous cities had their origins in villages," he said.
"We often hear that the Sunshine Coast is a community of communities. It tells us about the values and aspirations of our residents.
"The Coast already has the status of having the ninth largest population in the nation.
"Maintaining the individual quality of localities is a central tenant of the draft planning scheme."
Mr Jamieson said a key to establishing a bright future was broadening the Coast's economic base.
"Tourism is and will continue to be an extremely important part of our economy," he said.
"We have to create a broader economy to future-proof ourselves. We are in the business of tourism, retail and building. But it's about adding some more strings to our bow.
"A big part of creating that success is creating a future where our children no longer have to leave this region to study or find employment."
Keynote speaker Professor John Tomaney told the conference while Australia's economy was driven by its major cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, regions such as the Sunshine Coast had a vital role to play.
"Successful regions are characterised by their ability to provide infrastructure that promotes connectivity," he said.
Prof Tomaney told the forum the Sunshine Coast needed to promote what our region offers that is unique.
"Work out what in your regional economy is unique," he said.
"What is it we know and we do that other regions can't. The question is how does the Sunshine Coast continue to build on its prosperity?"