Do you want 16 storeys next to you?

The decision by the Minister Day to permit a 16 storey building in central Subiaco, that is totally out of scale with everything in the neighbourhood, in fact within the entire Metro, got me thinking.

Obviously we need our State Gov’t, architects and universities to consider, develop strategies and plans for a future Western Australia with a population of double and triple our current level. But is there real consideration being given to this or is it just reactionary shoot from the hip, short term stuff. It certainly feels more like the latter, and if so WA deserves much better.

The State Gov’t over decades has enabled and seemingly encouraged Perth to develop by merely enlarging the sprawl. I guess this has been the only way to fulfill the Australian dream of every family having a quarter acre block with a decent back yard. Obviously that brings other issues associated with sprawl, distance being the main one, socially and physically, eg, distance to the shops, school, services and administration, work and recreation. Public transport can’t meet all these needs for all possible permutations and locations, so car driven mobility becomes the only realistic outcome, even for those keen on active mobility of walking and riding. More cars lead to more car parks and roads, which increase the sprawl further still. Efforts to stop this are typically things like developers pressuring government at all levels to rezone green space and increase density as blocks become available for re-development. This leads to conflict between current owners and residents, with both their Councils and the developers they seem to more often support. The pace of WA population growth adds to this pressure significantly.

The Federal Dept of Infrastructure and Regional Development maintains annual data, and develops strategies and plans for, amongst other things ‘Australian Cities’, the latter being Australia’s cities of 100,000 or more. There are currently 16 such cities. WA despite being far and away the largest State occupying nearly a 1/3rd of the continent and almost half of its coastline has just one such city, ie, Perth, and nothing else even close to it! Even Tasmania has two such cities, Launceston and Hobart.

Yet the planning for the entire state continues to be based solely on developing Perth, and according to the ABS reducing the development and population elsewhere. Is this sane?

Perth must stop the sprawl, and Perth must eventually transition to increased density. But is the best way to put all our eggs only in that one basket and do it all now at a revolutionary rather than evolutionary pace? The risk is in doing so we actually destroy the core characteristics that differentiate Perth, and WA, from the other States, the characteristics we love, which make us call Perth and WA ‘home’?

Why aren’t we openly and actively talking about the location, planning and construction of WAs next two cities, in fact our next two metro cities? Places that can be designed with today’s and tomorrow’s needs designed into them from the start, instead of the complex process required for Perth to retrofit, density, different public transport, more local integration of industry and commerce, work, residence and recreation, and the growing conflict that entails with trying to do this at high pace? Would out of scale 16 storey buildings in Subiaco get a guernsey, if we had a vision for accommodating development in 3 metro cities to take the next 4 million West Australians, instead of Perth being all things, to all, in perpetuity?

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