Western Australia stands on the cusp, ready to take its place as one of the world's most notable destinations. We talk to key decision-makers about what's being done – and, more importantly, what needs to be done – to take our state into the future.
History shows that the fates of great cities, the outcomes of wars and the future of our communities often lie in the hands of a single leader and a few key decision-makers. The future of our home is no different. The decisions and investments made now will dictate the look and feel of our city and state in the future.
The built environment is critical. We need the infrastructure, ports, airports, roads, rail, hospitals, schools and universities upon which the future of our economy depends. But we also need a vibrant and accessible living environment that lifts our spirits and inspires us – a creative environment to attract talent and tourists from around the world, fuelling our future as a global centre for art, business, education and science.
To make this happen we need a cohesive plan for what Perth and WA will look like in the future. We need politicians, government and business leaders, architects, builders, designers and creatives, all striving to build a better WA.
Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi calls for a serious bipartisan discussion about our city’s needs for the next 50 years, so the changes of government don’t influence us so much. “If we know that over the next 50 years we need to spend $x billion, we can budget effectively and people can understand the bigger picture.”
But it’s not just the government investing in infrastructure. investing in our future is also the role of the private sector.
We need more public/private partnerships to get key projects up, and tax incentives to encourage philanthropy of key business people. It is suggested we should look in part to the American model, where philanthropy is often the driver behind cultural institutions.
The centre of Perth has changed dramatically since we ran a similar Vision WA feature two years ago. Elizabeth Quay and Perth City Link are making our city messy and at times frustrating, but Perth has become a more vibrant place, and these projects will further fuel that vibrancy, stimulating economic activity and the further construction of infrastructure and residential, industrial and commercial developments. The rise of small bars and restaurants, improved opening hours, place-making efforts and festivals have already made a substantial change, and more people are starting to live in our city centre.
Several sub-centres, like Fremantle and the inner-city suburbs, are also booming with residential redevelopment.
But are we seeing enough urban infill in appropriate places, namely on our transport routes? Down the track, are we going to be wondering why we didn’t go higher, increase density more? And most importantly, do we have a substantial long-term transport plan in place?
Curtin University Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman says that as young people and empty nesters look for a more urban lifestyle, Perth has a real chance to build on this urban trend and create a much more interesting, lively and productive city as we move towards 2040.
“The most creative cities have dense city centres where people can walk easily
to major places of creativity and interaction,” he says. “The arts scene that provides opportunities for the creatives now and into the future needs much greater densities in and around our city centres.
“Town planning can make this happen or stop it dead. The next million in Perth could easily be accommodated in and around the major centres, or be dispersed further and further outwards, stretching Perth from Lancelin to Myalup (nearly 300km),” says Peter, who this year received an AO for his contributions to urban design and sustainable transport.
Peter believes we need to put our emphasis on new rail lines to connect these centres and create a walkable and lively central Perth fed by light and heavy rail. If we don’t, traffic in Perth will drive us crazy – if it hasn’t already – and we will lose much of the attractions in our lifestyle.
“However, if we do this we can look forward to being a global, productive city that attracts young people from around the world.”
It's an opinion that is shared by most of our interviewees. without doubt, the most common theme was transport and the need for a long-term transport plan.
“We need to stop putting hundreds of millions of dollars every year into roads and put it into other forms of transport,” says Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt. “As goes one of my favourite quotes: ‘Building bigger roads to deal with congestion is like loosening your belt to deal with obesity.’
“We’ve got to invest in the kinds of high-quality transport infrastructure we want to see people using. People will follow the investment. We’ve got to bring land-use planning and transport planning together. It’s a really exciting opportunity to create great, vibrant livable neighbourhoods along the transport routes.”
We need to develop a sense of a shared identity, feel proud to be West Australian, believe that we can be the best and have enough confidence in our home-grown, Perth-located architects so we develop our own design culture that responds to our own community. We need to develop a sense of who we are as a unique city.
With the new Perth Arena and events like the Perth International Arts Festival and Fringe World, the exposure of Perth has increased, and we are getting international visitation from performers who go home and talk about our city. People are analysing WA from afar – our location, good governance, proximity to other centres, and lifestyle – and big-business players are making decisions to invest money here.
The WA economy is expanding and that’s driving population growth, creating jobs, wealth and a need to provide our more sophisticated population with the city it deserves. ABS forecasts suggest by 2040 Perth’s population could have more than doubled to around 4.4 million, with WA at around 5.2 million.
By 2028, Perth will overtake Brisbane as Australia’s third-largest city. But Brisbane is home to less than half of Queensland’s population; Perth accommodates four out of five people living in WA. The significant investments through Royalties for Regions must continue to encourage population growth and create sustainable regional economies, which, aside from making our regions places where people want to live, visit and invest, will take the pressure off Perth’s infrastructure.
We also need to broaden our economy and employment base, which is currently blue-collar dominant.
“People are living for longer, working for longer, so there needs to be a broader base economy and diversified employment options,” says social researcher Mark McCrindle. “Opportunities need to be provided for people to be innovative, an economy where they can start small businesses. This creates geographically smaller employment locations as well as community-based employment, rather than mass employment in terms of big mine sites.”
Mark says that WA has a younger, more mobile population than other states, making a society that is more pragmatic, aspirational and flexible.
“Leaders can therefore step out with bolder visions and be prepared to back decisions not based on tradition but more on innovation. People want multiple solutions. It’s not just about economic stability and public transport, it’s also about quality-of-life measures.”
Mark says people start to have an opinion on population growth or immigration when they start to feel an impact on themselves, such as congestion compared with five years ago, or queues in hospitals.
“When the basic expectations of the Australian way of life are impinged, people
say the population is growing too fast. But it’s actually the planning that’s inadequate. It’s not that these things haven’t been planned, but that they’ve been planned on inadequate data. A lot of forecasts have been upgraded over the last decade and we’ve been caught short on infrastructure planning.
“However, it’s recognised we’re now in a sustained trend. We can’t pull the lever on migration, because industries and employers are crying out for it. Births are higher and there’s continued longevity. The right data is available now and the leaders, developers and planners are starting to plan with those figures before them.”