28/05/2008 - 22:00

Making the most of Perth

28/05/2008 - 22:00


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WA Business News invited some of Western Australia's top architects and planners to discuss Perth's development in a boardroom forum last month.

WA Business News invited some of Western Australia's top architects and planners to discuss Perth's development in a boardroom forum last month.

The discussion typified what appears to be a widely held frustration in Perth over the development of our city.

The resources-fuelled construction boom currently under way provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a lasting and valuable contribution to the city's fabric.

Many people remember previous construction booms, from the 1960s through to the 1980s, when much of Perth's architectural heritage was torn down.

The heritage buildings that remain, like Newspaper House and the Old Treasury Building, have largely lain dormant for a decade or more, as we have seen the construction of many nondescript office towers and apartment buildings.

These buildings are, for the most part, inoffensive on their own. The problem lies in their cumulative effect - block after block of nothing special.

The planning and approvals process makes it relatively easy to proceed with a rectangular, glass box. Taken in isolation, each of these buildings does not cause great offence.

But try to get approval for something innovative, that is figuratively 'out of the box' and the process becomes so much more difficult.

The outcry over the tall buildings that were included in the artist's impressions of the government's proposed foreshore development provides a case in point.

Numerous armchair critics have questioned the height and bulk of some of the proposed buildings, but have offered little in the way of constructive alternatives for what is widely accepted as an under-used space.

Two of the most successful urban renewal projects in Australia in recent decades have been Sydney's Darling Harbour and Melbourne's Southbank development.

Both were highly contentious during the development phase.

Many people in Sydney wanted to preserve a handful of old terrace houses and apartments, rather than see Darling Harbour proceed.

Plans at the same time for a monorail service through the city added fuel to the fire.

But the government of the day stuck to its guns and Sydney now enjoys a meeting place that is filled with teeming crowds every week of the year.

The news on Perth is not all bad. For instance, critics like to characterise the city as overly car dependant.

Perth may not match densely populated European cities for the quality of its public transport system, but our current service is far ahead of many places around the world.

Last month, I travelled to Honolulu and Houston, and both cities could learn a lot from Perth.

They have minimal public transport - Houston famously pulled down its central railway station a few years ago so that it could build a new baseball stadium.

Instead, they have freeways stretching as far as the eye can see; freeways choked with congestion for most of the day.

Perth has enormous opportunity to add new dimensions to our city, without sacrificing the lifestyle most of us value.


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