30/04/2013 - 06:54

Congestion kills Perth’s easygoing appeal

30/04/2013 - 06:54


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We need to get over our blinkered opposition to high-density living in Perth.

Congestion kills Perth’s easygoing appeal

Anyone who has lived in Perth for the past five years will have noticed the massive rise in congestion on our roads.

For many of us that work in the CBD or its fringe, that commuting struggle has become more and more intense over the past two years.

I thought works on some of the city road changes were to blame and believed traffic would flow better once they were completed.

I was wrong. I like the changes in terms of seeking to make the city more harmonious and less dependent on cars but there are many obvious errors that seem to make the challenge of driving a vehicle into the city unnecessarily difficult.

Is it possible those people who reworked the city’s streets are actually anti-car rather than being champions of efficient people movement in all forms? It is the latter that we need.

The closure of Riverside Drive will also have some effect but it is clear to me Perth has shifted from an easy city to get around to one that is increasingly plagued by congestion.

Silly rules that make drivers choose a single lane well ahead of a more natural merger point make it a frustrating event for drivers that can see past their own bonnet and plan a few moves ahead. They can be trapped at traffic lights while, ahead of them, three lanes lie vacant enough to land a 747 jet.

Several fund managers I interviewed recently about setting up boutique businesses in Cottesloe cited the difficulty in commuting as a reason to base themselves out of the CBD.

This would not have been the case as little as five years ago.

But it is not just the CBD. Take a trip on any major road at any time of the day and you are likely to be held up, somewhere by something. Perth has grown fast and the transport system can’t keep up.

The battle around railway systems at election time was a distraction by the politicians who have shown they have few clues about solving this issue.

In sprawling Perth, the effectiveness of railways is limited and the cost is horrendous. But suburbanites think rail is a panacea to their car-bound woes.

If we want to relieve the burden on our roads we need to get over our blinkered opposition to high density, especially as the alternative – urban sprawl – has been vilified.

Cheered on by conservation groups, forces which were anti-development, through stealth in the public service and more overtly in the last period of state Labor rule, limited land supply at the urban fringe just as the mining boom demand hit and, thus, sentenced the next generation of homebuyers to far higher prices than necessary.

That was bad enough but, at the same time, they also failed to come up with n realistic ‘infill’ alternative to meet that increased demand for housing.

Apart from some apartment developments in the city and a limp effort to enact the density targets of the Directions 2031 policy starting in, of all places, Dalkeith, I have seen little political effort to overcome Perth’s obsession with low-rise development.

We even ban high-rise buildings at the place where it is most likely to yield a profit for developers, along the coast. If we want to high rise to work, at least let the real estate sector and wealthy house buyers lead the way on the beaches.

Done well, it could prove an example that high-density living ought not carry the negative connotations of the dreadful housing estates that we all learned about in the 1960s and 1970s.

In fact, the right policy mix would provide for high-rise living when it suited – students, singles, DINKs, empty nesters and retirees – pricking the demand for land and leaving suburbia a more affordable place for the families that need the space.

I have been heartened by news that medium-to-high density is working in decentralised places such as Cockburn, which allows a more natural progression from high rise to suburbia than those living in the CBD.

Every suburb needs to have a logical mix of alternatives to suit the area. That is not about sticking poor families in apartment tower, but also allows people whose children have left the nest to find appropriate accommodation in an area they are familiar with and passing on their land to others who need it.

Putting such development along major roads, railways, parks and shopping centres means that public space and infrastructure is used more efficiently.

Of course, that must be done in a sensible way that still retains an attraction for former suburbanites, otherwise such developments become ghettos. But medium-density examples like Subi Centro prove it can work.

Some of the less ambitious examples provided by Richard Weller in his book Boomtown 2050, provide for this kind of development.

Sensible, quality high density development is needed, otherwise the quality of life that made Perth so attractive will be whittled away by frustrated and wasted hours spent sitting in a car.


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