Asking the question: Why go regional?
When the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone into their homes, many people in large urban areas began to consider the possibilities of where else they could call “home”. PhD Candidate and Researcher at JCU’s Tropical Urbanism and Design Lab, Rana Dadpour, a recent migrant to regional Australia herself, took notice of the sudden influx of ex-urban residents in Cairns and decided to discover what led these newcomers to choose regional living.
After living in Sydney for more than 10 years, Rana moved to Cairns with her husband and two young children. “It was mainly for a lifestyle change and to raise our kids in a less urbanised and more slow-paced environment,” she says.
Rana has long been involved in academia and had been teaching and doing research at University of Technology Sydney as well as Western Sydney University. Upon arrival in Cairns, she was looking to broaden her academic network. “One day I came upon Associate Professor Lisa Law’s research profile on JCU’s website. I read that she was interested in researching migration trends to regional Australia. As a recent migrant to regional Australia myself, I felt this could be a great opportunity for me to contemplate and analyse my own family’s move to Cairns.”
Undertaking a PhD on ‘Migration and liveability in Regional Australia’, Rana embarked on a research project that asks the question: Who are those people who move to Cairns and why did they choose the area? Answering this question can equip local councils and government to make appropriate decisions for their populations as well as give planners and policy makers the information necessary to promote the sustainability and liveability of regional towns and cities.
“There are many factors involved before, during and after any move,” Rana says. “Understanding those factors relevant to migration to regional Australia will help us to provide policy makers in both national and local levels with evidence-based data and knowledge.”
Understanding hopes, expectations and concerns
Rana chose this research focus because of her personal connection to the topic. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new wave of migrants to regional areas, providing Rana with far more participants to interview and giving her research greater cultural relevance.
“Only a little while after the COVID-19 pandemic began, we witnessed a hype in the media discussing how city dwellers were fleeing urban areas and moving to regional Australia,” Rana says. “The pandemic, despite all its challenges, provided many office workers and businesses the option to work from home. Many people embraced the situation and made their move to regional Australia.”
Rana says for many people, a regional relocation meant they could buy their first home, spend more time with their family, and enjoy the lush environment and the natural amenities that come with it. “People realised that their quality of life can be very different depending on where they live,” she says.
The sudden wave of migration wasn’t all sunshine and palm trees, though. While those moving to regional areas seemed to have found a type of paradise, locals in these regions struggled with the sudden influx of extra people trying to buy cars, put their children in schools and find work in a region structured to support a smaller population. “The migration hype, pandemic and relocations had a huge impact, particularly in the real estate market, creating a sense of dissatisfaction among a number of groups of locals in regional areas,” Rana says.
This dissatisfaction is another reason why Rana’s research contributes towards creating communities that support the needs of their populations. “Understanding the phenomenon of migration to regional Australia and the factors involved in the process will help policy makers to consider the needs and concerns of locals as well as the hopes and expectations of new migrants,” she says. “That understanding and consideration can allow us to bridge the gap between different groups of people by developing all-inclusive and participatory planning schemes.”
Regional Australia, the place to be
Rana’s investigations have found that lifestyle and housing affordability are some of the biggest drawcards for those looking to go regional. However, she learned that not all regional areas are in the same boat.
“Some places have been more successful than others in attracting and retaining new migrants,” Rana says. “This is where my research is linked to liveability and place-based factors. I’m trying to find out what the expectations were of migrants in regards to their new regional hometown. This will help us to unpack why new migrants choose a specific place to live and work, and how councils, planners and industry organisations can adjust to those expectations and improve their town’s liveability.”
Specific factors that Rana found to be strongly related to a regional relocation include health and wellbeing of residents, housing affordability, safety, culture, natural environment, and a sense of trust and belonging. Identifying and analysing these factors allows Rana to unpack the notion of liveability and how it affects population growth.
Identifying those factors helps Rana answer the ‘why’ part of her research question about migrants coming to Cairns. The ‘who’ part has proven slightly more difficult to define.
“So far, I have met a number of new migrants from all walks of life,” Rana says. “They each have very different backgrounds. One thing that has stood out to me is it seems that all these people have the shared characteristics of being very flexible and adventurous. I still have a lot of interviews to conduct, but it does make sense as it would require a specific type of personality to let go of the life you built somewhere and move to a totally new place!”
Rana is excited to continue her research and wants the results to have a positive impact on her new home. “I am hoping that through my research, I can provide the government and local community with a multi-dimensional perspective on regional migration,” she says.
“We need policies that support sustainable development and address socioeconomic inequalities in regional Australia. By researching migration and liveability at the same time, I’m hoping to find a way to help regional communities gain and retain population and workforce while protecting local identity and livelihood.”
Rana Dadpour is a PhD candidate studying migration and liveability regional Australia. Her main research interests include migration, liveability, regional planning, place and space, mobility, sustainability and community empowerment in tropical regions.
Rana has long been involved in academia, teaching and doing research at several universities. As a member of the Tropical Urbanism and Design Lab (TUDLab), Rana is interested in urban growth in regional towns and cities and passionate about exploring the amenities that drive Australian and international migrants to take residence in such areas. Her research has been focused on people’s mobility and the factors that influence their decisions. Mobility generates change and Rana’s passion is to plan and promote place-based strategies that draw on regional local cultures in order to advocate sustainable change and development in local and regional planning.