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When young Australian
comedian Josh Thomas
recently announced on
Twitter he was coming
to Perth, he got a lot of
responses: "No, don't come, you'll be so bored...
There is nothing to do here, there's only a bell
tower and a ferris wheel..." And while Josh could
crack a few gags about our embarrassment about
our city's appeal to visitors, for many others, the
joke is wearing very thin.
Perth is a beautiful city. Situated on a wide,
sparkling river, nestled against long sandy beaches
under a perpetually cloudless sky, the metropolis
has developed, sprawling out under the sun, creep-
ing up and down the coast. For the most part,
those of us who live here have an enviable, carefree
lifestyle, free of nasty traffic snarls or high crime
rates, we have space and gardens and hospitals and
schools. What we don't have is much urban vibe
with all the culture, nightlife and shopping options
we might expect a big city to have.
But slowly, it seems that might be starting to
change. Boosted by the mining boom of the past
few years, Perth's inner city has had a flood of
new retail and office developments and inner city
apartments. Major redevelopmenst are planned
for Northbridge, East Perth and the city fore-
shore. Changes to liquor licensing laws have seen
a handful of funky new bars open in previously
dark corners of the CBD and suburbs and the state
government is committed to extending retail trad-
ing hours. It's a trickle of change many are longing
to see turn into a raging flood.
Every few weeks it seems someone has a new
plan or vison for the city centre. Community and
business groups are holding forums and sum-
mits and breakfast meetings regularly. As well as
CityVision, which has been a vocal advocate for
strategies to improve Perth since 1987, there are
now lobby groups such as FuturePerth (a group of
planners, students, tourist operators and others in-
terested in encouraging Perth to "open its mind");
Perth City Focus, representing retailers in the heart
of the CBD, and the Committee for Perth, formed
in 2006 by a group of Perth businesses in order to
"seek to promote and enable change that drives the
sustainable development of Perth as a metropolis
of rich cultural diversity, economic prosperity and
world class amenities".
"People are talking, and people are listening
and nodding furiously. There are lots of people
keen to push forward," says government architect
Steve Woodland, who advises on urban design
issues as well as specific building projects through-
out the city and in regional areas. In fact there are
so many plans and visions rocketing around Perth
that Ken Adam from CityVision wryly refers to
our "naval gazing" while Committee for Perth
CEO Marion Fulker talks about "vision fatigue".
Many of the ideas sound fairly similar: we want a
vibrant city with a variety of entertainment options,
a city that makes the most of our unique character
and setting on the water and embraces Aboriginal
heritage and cultural diversity. We want spaces that
encourage community building and plenty of art
and culture. We want a welcoming city.
But while we might appear to agree on the out-
comes, how we actually achieve them is the subject
of robust debate. And, for every person praying
for rain there are others fearing they, and the Perth
they love, will be drowned in the resulting deluge.
Will Perth compromise its carefree lifestyle with
too much social change, risk the physical assets it
does have with too much development or take the
soft option and end up achieving nothing much.
"We can all come up with aspirational com-
ments for Perth but how do we actually get there?"
Marion asks, "We are still quite country-townish
and we tie ourselves up in knots about it," she says.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief
executive James Pearson is frustrated that we seem
content to limit our imagination when it comes to
making the most of what we have in Perth.
Perth is standing on the cusp of change -- with one foot wiggling
its toes in a comfy suburban slipper and the other itching to slip
on a stiletto and go partying, we are being asked to think hard
about what sort of a city we want for the future. And with another
resources boom rolling our way and a population explosion
looming, the questions are becoming more pressing.
Danielle Benda investigates. « illustration emma thomson
Mark Barnaba, West
Coast Eagles chair-
What are you most proud
of in WA? Our people
and our standard of living.
Perth is now, without ques-
tion, one of the finest cities anywhere in the world
in which to live. All of us that live here are indeed
lucky to be in that position.
What don't you like about Perth? Its isolation
can wear you down at times -- a refurbished and
expanded airport would certainly help alleviate
some of that feeling.
Do you have a vision of how Perth might be
in, say, 20 years? One of the two or three major
global centres for natural resources, boasting
world class entertainment, sporting and cultural
precincts, and consistently rated as one of the top
five "most liveable cities" on the planet.
Do you have any fears for WA's future? That
we get complacent and take for granted what
we have. We still have much to do to take WA to
where it needs to be in 20 or 30 years' time.
MARK BARNABA PHOTOGRAPHED BY Ross Swanborough
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