If we can build on the beach at Rottnest, why can’t we on the mainland?
September school holidays means it's time for the Pownall clan to spend yet another week on Western Australia's holiday paradise – Rottnest Island.
As promised, I remain committed to making reference to the island each year, partly as a way to reflect on my experiences there but often as an obtuse segue to other subjects.
At the risk of being slightly introspective, I thought it might be fun to do a retrospective on every post-Rotto column I produced since late 2007, when this weekly article first started.
In 2008, 'Corporate types staying calm' noted that Western Australian business leaders on the island were riding out the storm of the GFC with a shrug of their shoulders and a 'what can we do?' mentality.
In 2009, 'The more the merrier when service counts' examined why monopolies, of which Rottest has a few, were bad when it comes to looking after customers. The segue was the problems caused by the privatisation of Telstra without separating the poles, wires and exchanges.
'Retail a by-product, not driver of growth' was the headline in 2010, but don't be fooled, my piece was secondary to an economics view but looked at shortfalls in the customer experience for those visiting the island. I was just trying to be helpful, of course.
In 2011's 'Island escape leaves plenty to ponder' I asked whether the holiday destination was an example of a world we have left behind or, more alarmingly, a metaphor for where we are heading? Think development restrictions and fuel costs 40 per cent above what they should be to save carbon emissions.
In 2012 it was 'As ever, Rotto caught between then and now'. After highlighting the exceptional water-based tours I bemoaned a thwarted tennis-career comeback due the closest courts being closed, then reflected on how cautiously the island has adapted to modernity while its ferry service wholeheartedly embraced it.
Last year it was 'Walkable is doable ... on Rotto at least', in which I used the failed attempt to exclude bike riders from Rottnest's pedestrian mall as a metaphor for what is happening in Perth due to changes to the road system. It is not about one form of transport, it is about providing choice and flexibility.
'Rotto nostalgia not what it used to be' was a column in April, which was not sparked by a visit to the island but by debate about introducing much-needed five-star accommodation to Rotto, to bring it in tune the 21st century consumer.
So what did my holiday there earlier this month make me think about?
As I sat on a balcony on Longreach Bay and looked back across the distant high buildings of the city, I couldn't help but return to a theme I have made reference to many times in this column.
I love the million-dollar views on offer from the Rotto bungalows. They well and truly make up for the relatively expensive yet otherwise low-grade accommodation that my wife prefers to refer to as 'glamping' due to the fact that the facilities, at best, feel like a fancy tent.
The fact is, at some stage in years gone by, some farsighted people realised that people want to stay right on the beach. They want the views over it, they want to be able to step onto it, and they want to sleep with sounds of the sea.
That wish isn't the exclusive desire of holidaymakers, of course. People also want to live by the beach at home. Oddly enough, despite having more beaches than almost any other city in the world, we refuse to allow people to live there. For some reason the land nearest beaches is untouchable and even high-rise developments that can see over the dune barrier are forbidden or heavily restricted.
Why? Are beaches – near sterile deserts of sun-bleached sand – more environmentally sensitive than other places?
Apart from the 'impact' of early morning shading by very high buildings, which can be minimised by good architecture, there really is a lack of reason around this subject. People want to live their lives overlooking the ocean; so let them. It is not as if they are blocking someone else's view.
As we head towards a mining downturn, a slowing economy that will be healthy but less buoyant, we need to find new ways to attract and keep people here. One way is retain and improve on the attractiveness of Perth – an ongoing project that that has had remarkable success in the CBD under various state governments, recent City of Perth lord mayors, business leaders and think tanks such as the Committee for Perth.
As the skyline of the city attests, even from Rottnest, apartment living is increasingly popular. There is a danger, though, that forcing apartments to be built as infill for areas with little intrinsic value will backfire on us. If people want views of the ocean, why can't we let them have that?