Sling one on the riverbank and let’s develop

15/04/2009 - 22:00

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Perth planners could learn a lot from our neighbours to the north, in Singapore.

Sling one on the riverbank and let’s develop

AS a regular visitor to Singapore, I have been astounded how a city that is supposed to be the real Dullsville has made itself more and more attractive.

As Perth and, to a lesser extent, regional centres look to make themselves more attractive to their inhabitants, I think the island city to our north is a good example of how we may go about things.

Going back about 20 years, Singapore closed down some of its seedier areas - such as Bugis Street - in a bid to shut out vice and crime.

The result was a lifeless city that had little fun in it. Shopping, it seemed, was the only pastime for locals and visitors.

Those who wanted fun headed across the causeway to Malaysia and partied in a place where restraint was not noticeable.

But clearly that thinking has changed.

Over the years new areas have been allowed to develop, with riverside stretches of bars and clubs as well as other places for people to enjoy their leisure time. These places are lively, fun and safe - with plenty to attract visitors of most ages.

For those who aren't regulars in Singapore it's worth noting that these bars vary across the spectrum and have a much more relaxed stance on things that would not be tolerated here.

However, it is all done with Singaporean restraint. I have, for instance, never witnessed violence there, let alone the unsocial behaviour we see in our entertainment districts.

I am not suggesting that Singapore is perfect. For instance, that same restraint is one factor contributing to Singapore's lack of an original music culture, despite it being twice the size of Perth.

Singapore's young people are still not well served in this regard.

So, a model city it is not. As a model for making changes, though, it is.

The city has allowed the cultural demands of the population and visitors to be met. It has evolved with the times, realising that its own people needed something more vibrant.

Perth has similar issues, if not for the same reasons. We are culturally bound not because of the restraint of the community, but because of licensing regulations, planning laws and inertia by government.

Ironically, this has led to isolated entertainment pockets where restraint is perceived to be completely absent and, instead of the boredom of old Singapore, you get the threat of people who have never learned to control themselves.

Small bar licences have been a big change in this respect. Slowly, and despite certain local council opposition, they will spread our entertainment options. But people also want to congregate in crowds in safe and enjoyable areas. Fishing Boat Harbour in Fremantle is an example of something like that, as are several high streets fanning out to the north and east of central Perth.

But the lack of motion on the Perth foreshore is appalling. Former premier Alan Carpenter may have tried to move this on with his vision of big towers, a move that was more Dubai-esque than Singapore. It was not that well received and was always going to be threatened by politics or money - succumbing to both late last year.

Perhaps Mr Carpenter should have looked to our northern neighbour for a more subtle approach.

Singapore may be full of gleaming towers but its entertainment areas are low-rise and simple.

There is no reason why we can't replicate this along our own river foreshore. Government would need to spend little. In this newspaper a couple of years ago, developer Luke Saraceni said all the state had to do was give the private sector access and it would be built.

While he was referring to the much-delayed Northbridge Link project, the idea could easily be transposed to the foreshore.

Build a promenade and let private developers take 25- or 30-year leases over sections of the riverbank to construct low-rise facilities for entertainment. It is a simple and doable solution to a problem that has vexed Perth for decades.

If it is successful, the state can add the high-rise residential and commercial buildings as it desires. The fact is, success on the ground (or the riverbed) will make the case for further development easier in the future.

The challenge of government in these austere times is to achieve goals without additional spending. This is one way of doing that.

BROAD THINKING?

THE alternative approach to careful spending by the state is what we have just seen from the federal government with its broadband strategy.

Here we have something that appears to be a result of a backroom policy decision straight out of ABC comedy The Hollowmen. You almost imagine the adviser to the faceless prime minister sending back the $10 billion and $20 billion options, until he eventually hears the magic $43 billion figure.

"Yes, that sounds like a suitable plan, it sounds like a nation-building number," says our adviser.

Personally, I am not against the government pushing Australia towards high-speed internet access. But I am concerned about how it is being done and wonder if there may not be other ways.

In my view, the retail-network dominance by Telstra has always been the constraint, not the amount of money.

What about legislating for the breakup of Telstra and putting the network in the hands of a new, heavily regulated utility -funded by government, if necessary - to improve the system for the benefit of everybody.

Money could then be applied where it is needed and allow private owners to hook into the system with innovative developments.

I can already watch ABC television via the internet at home via a private ISP and the Telstra network. Surely this is something that can be built upon?

What about making the internet tax deductible? Perhaps that would be a cheaper way to accelerate the development of the network?

Instead we appear to be keen to spend the best part of a decade building a cable network that may not achieve what we want, and leave our children bankrupt.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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