Change a constant as city grows
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One of the greatest challenges facing any city is the requirement to balance urban growth with the needs of the existing population.
Perth is an intriguing example because of the staggering change in its urban footprint in just 50 years.
As a relatively new population centre, Perth has had the land resources to offer proximity to the ocean, work and other amenities for relatively cheap prices.
Go to Europe, for instance, and you’ll discover a much higher price is to be paid for such things. The jostling for prime positions there has taken place over centuries.
However, Perth’s capability to cost-effectively accommodate people through sprawl is over.
Firstly, the distance of new suburbs from the centre means much amenity is lost and, secondly, land, even at the fringes, is no longer cheap.
People want to live closer to amenities such as the beach and entertainment areas.
Density, including high-rise, is a way to achieve that.
To many of those wedded to the quarter acre block, apartment dwellers are often viewed with pity; but the rest of the world has learned to accommodate people in this style.
Those who want to retain their space have been pushed out.
This is the great challenge we face – space versus amenity.
You can’t have both once a city reaches a certain size and, in a democracy, weight on numbers will win.
Density has numbers on its side.
The Iconic Scarborough development is an example of this.
It is ridiculous for a state such as Western Australia, with its many thousands of kilometres of coastline, to ban high-rise because some small fraction of the beach may be cast with shadow of a morning.
People congregated at Scarborough, initially, because it was a great beach, but increasingly because of the other great things about it.
It is a coastal hub the likes of which are rare in WA.
It seems like a no-brainer to grow that hub and improve it.
To do so requires more population, and the only way to accommodate those people is via density.
High-rise makes even more sense because ocean views are a valued amenity that even most locals can’t get from their homes.
Some Scarborough residents may be upset by this change, particularly those long-term locals who were attracted by cheap land near the beach years ago.
For others, it is possible that affordable housing was the key attraction, and many only discovered the beach as an accidental bonus.
I lived in Perth for nearly three decades before I ‘discovered’ the beach and realised how lucky I was to live here.
Even now, a tiny proportion of this city’s 2 million residents visit the beach in any way that might be considered regular.
I don’t consider those opposed to this kind of development as Nimbys.
In many cases they are not hypocrites saying ‘anywhere but in my back yard’, they oppose development in anyone’s backyard.
I suspect many genuinely want things to stay as they are, everywhere.
When I say stay as they are, I mean in terms of urban development.
But scratch the surface and you’ll find they also want other things.
They want their kids to have opportunities in new thriving industries, they want their own businesses to thrive, their own careers to have growth pathways, their land values to improve, and their own special needs met as they grow older with a very different type of amenity required.
All these things rarely come without the kind of growth that also stretches communities to deal with issues outside their comfort zone.
So it is about a choice.
Those opposed to development on the grounds that they wish things to stay as they are usually find themselves in the minority.
In a democracy, their choice loses.
They do have options, though. They can move or they can adjust.
That might seem unfair, but in a place like Perth where big changes can happen within the space of one lifespan, it might also seem unfair for a few people to hold the majority to ransom just because they like the way things are.
Perhaps an interesting analogy is business.
Many companies like the way things are but they don't get to choose the change that affects them.
Newspaper owners didn’t get to stop radio, television or the internet because publishers liked the ways things were – they had to adapt and adjust to the changing environment
The challenge for governments is to soften the blow that comes with change and provide for evolution rather than revolution.