I was reading this article in the Australian.
It seems we are not the only place in the world trying to make our CBD more exciting:
Southern capital shows the way
Guy Allenby From: The Australian April 22, 2011 3:47PM
BACK in the 1990s when Lonely Planet dubbed Perth Dullsville, it stung the city, badly. Really badly.
In fact, says Dave Hedgcock, a professor of urban and regional planning at Perth's Curtin University, it remains a huge raw nerve.
"We have had that burning away in the back of our mind for some time . . . and how to combat it and we're trying," Hedgcock says. "We're trying pretty hard but it's a slow process."
But Perth, which is, along with Honolulu, one of the most remote cities on the planet, apparently remains a less than pulsating place to live, at least for the creative young wanting to hang their hats in a metropolis that hums. As the research project Comparative Capitals (compiled by independent organisation Form) found, Perth's educated young adults have been leaving the city in significant numbers and relocating to Australia's eastern states.
In fact, between 2001 and 2006, while Western Australia's population grew by 157,000 people, the net loss of 25 to 34-year-olds with a university degree was 3 per cent from Perth.
During that period the most popular destination among people who left Western Australia's capital was Melbourne, at 39 per cent.
Sydney followed with 32 per cent, Canberra 10 per cent, Brisbane 9 per cent and Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart shared the remaining 10 per cent.
Anecdotally, Hedgcock says, the sense is that just as workers have poured into the state, drawn by the mining industry in recent years, Perth's young creatives have been flowing out. And re-energised Melbourne is the main destination of choice.
"There's that sense that things are really happening in Melbourne," Hedgcock says of the reasons for the flight of Perth's educated young.
"There are housing opportunities closer to the city centre and I think it is related to the 24-hour economy, which they take much more seriously in Melbourne, and it is related to diversity and excitement and quality facilities and these sorts of issues.
"They seem to have really hit it with gen Y. Those guys like it over there [Melbourne] and they are sucking the life out of our city now."
Perth is very aware of these issues, says Hedgcock, adding that a key antidote to the Dullsville label is to enliven Perth's centre.
Certainly, there's more housing in the centre and the redevelopment of East Perth has been successful and generally well received. But, he says, it has been mainly in the high income brackets.
"Luxury apartments in the city don't inject life because people just live there and they might wander out on to the balcony and down to the city, but they don't inhabit the streets in the way that young people do," Hedgcock says.
Let's face it, the world's most vital cities have streets full of people of all ages and situations, effective public transport, parks, museums, grand civic spaces, cafes spilling out on to footpaths and intriguing laneways full of shops, cafes and boutiques, leading off the main thoroughfares. Like Melbourne.
"And we're certainly looking to Melbourne," Hedgcock says.
"We're trying all the same things over here: attracting a residential population back to the city . . . and we're trying to enliven our laneways."
One large project aimed at injecting life back into central Perth is its $404 million waterfront redevelopment plan. The 10ha site will include 1700 apartments, 150,000sqm of office space and 39,000sqm of retail space. Work is expected to begin in October and take 2 1/2 years.
The other big project is the $2 billion Northbridge Link project, which will sink the suburban rail underground, freeing up space in the city centre to create a city square, develop offices and housing, and link the commercial district and Northbridge arts and entertainment precinct.
Once the two mammoth projects are finished perhaps Melbourne and Sydney won't be quite the magnets they represent for Perth's educated and creative young.
Not that it's only Melbourne that's showing the way when it comes to injecting life back into their central areas.
Sydney-based architect and urban planner Philip Thalis maintains Melbourne and Brisbane have shamed the harbour city in the past couple of decades when it comes to investment in cultural and social infrastructure, the bones of a successful city centre. "In Brisbane you see the enormous Southbank development, GoMA [Gallery of Modern Art] and the extension to the State Library," he says.
"And in Melbourne there's the Museum of Melbourne, you see the exhibition buildings, Federation Square and Southern Cross Station.
"Where do you see that level of public investment in Sydney?"
Sydney betrays a complete lack of public imagination, Thalis says, adding that, apart from the Bicentenary projects, Sydney has been largely moribund in the post World War II period when it comes to great public works.
"The problem was they got Darling Harbour so wrong. Over the past 25 years we've had an inordinate bias towards motorways and we've had extraordinarily weak political leadership at state level."
That said, Sydney has one of its biggest urban redevelopment schemes in its history about to begin at the northwestern corner of the city, Barangaroo.
Aspects of the design of the 22ha site, on a huge shipping container terminal site by the harbour, have proven enormously contentious, particularly the $6bn first stage, which will include a host of soaring skyscrapers, a mix of commercial, retail and residential space, and a hotel built into the water on a public pier.
Thalis is an architect and urban designer, respected for his knowledge of Sydney's urban history in particular, and a fierce critic of the Barangaroo plans. A proposal led by him was chosen as the winner, ahead of 136 entries in the NSW government-driven international competition.
However, a rival entry was ultimately chosen as the one to be developed.
Thalis has called the plan the "worst model of 20th-century urbanism" and has blamed the incompetence of NSW government agencies.
"They don't seem to know how to combine social, economic, environmental initiatives for the benefit of all citizens," Thalis says.
Nevertheless, he remains generally optimistic about the future for our cities. "I think if you look at the best aspects of Australian cities, the most progressive aspects, if combined, you have a great recipe for success," he says.
"We need to appreciate is, despite the lack of political courage and leadership, Australian cities are reasonably good. They are still distinctive, each of them. They have fantastic siting, all of them."
Brisbane has the Brisbane River, which, despite the risks it presents, serpentines beautifully through the city, he say, while "Perth has a beautiful body of water - the Swan River - running through it and this fantastic coastline, and Sydney's harbour is as amazing as any city in the world.
"And think of Hobart: an absolutely breathtaking site with the pale blue water of the Derwent and Mt Wellington at the back of the city."
A great city employs its existing natural and built assets to best effect, and Melbourne and Adelaide - both beautifully sited - also boast "the foundation of some of the greatest 19th-century city plans anywhere in the world". Which is perhaps why Adelaide, albeit on a much smaller scale, has a great opportunity to echo some of Melbourne's successes in injecting life into its centre.
It'll also be an inevitable corollary of an expanding Adelaide.
Andrew Allan, senior lecturer in the school of natural and built environments at the University of South Australia, says the SA government's 30-year plan for greater Adelaide, released last year, is calling for something like another 500,000 to 600,000 people to be accommodated.
Already there are about 20,000 more people living in Adelaide city than there were 10 years ago, thanks to residential development. "And there's a lot more planned to come on stream," Allan says.
In urban design terms, "Adelaide is actually doing some good things," Thalis says, mentioning the city's new tram line extensions and "the rejuvenating of the central city square and the work they've done on North Terrace is terrific".
Across the Nullarbor, Perth is determined to shake off the Dullsville label.
"That Dullsville comment has probably made people realise that if we are going to attract people into the city we've got to produce a better product," Hedgcock says.
Brisbane is fundamentally on track and Sydney's got a long way to catch up and a lot to live up to.
"Remember, in the 20th century we pulled off the greatest work of urban infrastructure in the world in the Harbour Bridge and the greatest piece of architecture in the Opera House," Thalis says.
"There they are on opposite headlands speaking to each other across the quay. Dare to be optimistic.
"I think that there are lots of things that we should be positive about and if we just bring people's imagination to the good things we can make great cities in the 21st century because we have to." And at the moment Melbourne is showing the way.
IMPROVE IT AND THEY WILL COME
How our city centres can be better residential, social, cultural, retail and commercial hubs:
Imrpove traffic flow. "What they are doing is fantastic and probably better than any Australian city in building infrastructure, but Brisbane is decimated by traffic in its city centre," says Philip Thalis, Sydney architect and urban designer. "It really suffers. The traffic engineers seem to have a very heavy hand."
Re-imagine the waterfront, as the city is about to do in an extensive new development. "I think this project has a great potential to draw people in because the river is such an icon in Perth," says David Hedgcock, professor of urban and regional planning at Perth's Curtin University. Attract a mix of people back to the city: "The problem from our point of view is that we're doing that but it's mainly in the high-income brackets."
"A lot of people involved in housing [in Adelaide] tend to be specialising in traditional suburban houses, and they've pressured the government to open up more opportunities on the fringe," the University of South Australia's Andrew Allan says. "So while the 30-year plan is trying to get densities a bit higher and a bit more workable for an urbane urban environment, the developers are at loggerheads with the government."
Encourage the development of the city centre's laneways. Discourage cars, encourage pedestrians. Ensure the city's northwestern edge is opened to the harbour with a sensitive mix of residential, commercial, retail and cultural development and parkland at Barangaroo. "Sydney and Melbourne [city centres] are used seven days [a] week intensively and are full of life, and Sydney's got plenty of scope to get better still," Thalis says.
- Guy Allenby