16/03/2015 - 16:31

Knowledge economy rides light rail

16/03/2015 - 16:31


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Perth needs a functional urban transport strategy if it is to join be a city of choice for business, and light rail is part of the solution.

EFFECTIVE: Light rail can unlock the urban potential of modern cities, such as this system in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US. Photo: iStockphoto

Perth needs a functional urban transport strategy if it is to join be a city of choice for business, and light rail is part of the solution. 

Light rail is booming in cities around the world, having become a critical part of urban strategy to attract young professionals into city centres and sub centres.

Light rail is able to attract ‘cool’ urbanism around it. This is not as trivial as it may sound, because young urban professionals can go anywhere these days and cities have to work hard to ensure they don’t lose them all to New York, London and Paris. It is not just trendy latte urbanism.

This, among other reasons, is why the Committee for Perth has joined with groups including the Property Council of Australia (WA), UDIA and local councils to promote light rail – because it creates the kind of urbanism that is needed for a 21st century city.

In my new book The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities are Moving Away from Car-Based Planning, I look at all the evidence for making a competitive, productive urban economy. The best way I can explain it is to see that cities have two main parts to their economies today – the knowledge economy and the consumption economy.

The knowledge economy is the important part as it creates the innovation and productivity gains, it links to the global economy and it creatively controls the primary and secondary production parts of the economy.

The consumption economy is where houses and shops are serviced by jobs related to daily living. They are the jobs that are lower in pay and are often replaced by automation, are shipped offshore or are replaced by those arriving on the latest wave of immigration.

The urban spaces and infrastructure that facilitate these different economic functions have now become very clear; the knowledge economy needs intensive spaces and intensive modes to make them work such as rail, walking and cycling.

Space cannot be given to acres of bitumen for roads and parking, as it is needed for intensive building and spaces where people meet to create economic activity face-to-face. It is urban and it needs quality rail and quality walkable spaces. Rail is 20 times more able to move people down the same space as roads.

The consumption economy is essentially suburban, with shopping centres needing lots of space and lots of roads. However, in this time of transition, owners of most major shopping centres want their spaces to become knowledge economy centres, too.

The case of the universities illustrates the point.

Perth’s universities are suburban and were becoming more and more like supermarkets, dispensing quick bursts of knowledge that students take home and work on. But all universities are now wanting to become knowledge centres, where people can live and work and play, even shop; and this requires getting rid of car parks and developing city-like activity.

Curtin University is planning ‘Greater Curtin’ as a major urban centre. Future options for the MAX light rail project included options to link Curtin through the city to The University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University (Mt Lawley).

These functions should be the core focus of any light rail, not so much the longer journey to Mirabooka, which is where the real expense lies.

Building a light rail that is a ‘knowledge arc’ or a ‘knowledge wishbone’ (if you include ECU) is the main function of this proposed system. It would make thousands of knowledge economy jobs work much better.


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