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Perth - that bad?

edited April 2007 in architecture
Perth is the latest Australasian city to seek an urban culture kickstart by importing an expert. The Australian reported last month that urban planner Charles Landry was recently "thinker in residence".
...It was not enough to turn to conventional fields such as architecture, engineering and land-use planning alone to fix a city. "There is no simplistic, 10-point plan, but strong principles can help send good city making on its way," he says.

So how does Landry work? He walks around and hangs out, having lots of coffee with people and taking thousands of photos. Written reports, he says, end up unread on shelves. Landry firstly identified the signage as being a problem.

Perth was of the plethora of signs prohibiting almost every conceivable street activity. It mirrored a mind-set of "huge inertia, a culture of fear and risk aversion" among Perth's bureaucratic leaders, says Landry, who found himself puzzled and frustrated that one of Australia's wealthiest cities said no with such frequency.

Landry went back to the UK without setting anything in train, except possible a will to look at the issue, gauging by a lecture he gave attended by 1000 people. Without being a disciple of the Richard Florida culture-saves-the-city model, Landry has a few suggestion for Perth in this department:

- Perth could hold the world's biggest exhibition of Aboriginal art
- a Festival of the Dull [???]
- a world-class environmental healing industry
"There's an astonishing opportunity in Perth, but it carries with it global responsibilities. I just can't see the thinking brain that is looking at future-proofing this city."

This whole process of councils hiring gurus to come over and check them out reminds me of a certain fairy tale in which a witch asks a mirror "who is the fairest of them all".

I would expect that Perth's architecture and urban planning worlds have more than enough talent, experience and local knowledge to be able to improve their own city given the right platform and some political clout. Landry doesn't completely disagree: "My ‘heat of the moment' approach has strengths and weaknesses. It can give an unfiltered freshness, but may lack a reflective perspective and some points may have been forgotten." Landry, and the media coverage of his month in town, has raised the profile of FORM Contemporary Craft and Design Inc., who flew him out here. They have a website filled with knowledgeable Perth boosters, mostly suited locals photographed in laneways enthusing about all the possibilities. Like other cities going through the same process, the following jargon words and phrases are repeated ad nauseum without much in the way of explanation:

creative capital
capitalise on water assets
world class
innovative ideas incubator

Does every city need a CBD buzzing 24/7. Even LA is trying to do it. What's wrong with having a few boring 9 to 5 cities?

AUSTRALIAN 15.03.07 "Shaking up Dullsville"




  • dav_
    edited January 1970
    Landry did some good while he was here, in my belief. At the very least he got ordinary people to talk about the idea of progressing the city. I haven't gone through and read ALL his writings, and i'm not sure if Peter is referring to something specific in them, but i'm not sure that a 'buzzing CBD' is anywhere near the heart of the problem.

    Unlike a city like Melbourne with its train stations and cathedrals and federation squares, Perth has no real city centre, as such. And what it has is by no means the focus of the lives of Perth folk. So instead, the definition and percieved character of 'Perth' is the result of some kind of averaging of the great suburban sprawl that makes up the metro area. It seems to me though, that Perth would do better to recognise itself as a connected collection of hub suburbs (huburbs?) each with distinctive moods and attractions, instead of trying to fake that the people of metro Perth are the people of the imaginary 'Perth'. But fake it we do.

    This means that when someone suggests a change for Perth (the imaginary or the real one), that will in actuality only effect certain specific areas of the sprawl (eg. liquor licensing), Graham & Beryl Baby-Boomer from the far-flung outer suburbs will be up in arms. Nevermind that they will never venture within coo-ee of the 'entertainment districts', let alone the CBD. We convince ourselves that we are all citizens of the imaginary 'Perth'.

    As far as I can judge, from a clearly biased viewpoint, the problem with changing Perth (into anything, in any direction) is not a lack of support or know-how or talent, but rather the vast amount of resistance. The moment any idea of a 'direction' for Perth is mooted you just know that the familiar chorus of 'leave our sleepy town the way it is, that's the way we like it' won't be far behind. But it's an imagined sleepy town. There are people in this city working their knuckles to the bone to inject some life where their shouldn't be any, and the kids who turn up to late night electro-clash events and the intrigued punters who turn up to mystery exhibitions in gay nightclubs are glad for it.

    I think that the progressive set are more than happy for Perth to retain an over-arching mood of a casual suburb - the laneway boosters are still in town because they love the place; it seems, however, that there is a large (or at least vocal) group who wants Perth to be nothing BUT a casual subrub, disregarding the feelings of those who wish they didn't have to remove themsleves to the East just to get a decent cultural experience.

    And I think Perth would profit greatly from more of Landry's 'heat of the moment' approach. It might result in some happy accidents or risky successes or horrible mistakes, but I'm sure it would result in something more interesting and enjoyable than the committee-d, watered-down, focus-grouped, averaged-out efforts that populate our landscapes and attitudes. Bring on next year's Thinker-In-Residence!
  • peter
    edited November -1
    <p>Anyone know about (new Vic state architect) Geoffrey London's work while he was in the same position in Perth? Would be interesting to know what sort of changes he might bring to the position.</p>
    <p><a href=""></a></p>
  • simon seasons
    edited November -1
    <p>I have to say Dav that your piece is exemplary.</p>
    <p>My wife is an activist type philosopher artist who went for a 'culture' job with a council near (within a 300km radius) to us. They wanted to create an "arts community" where there is currently a lot of wine, skiing and farming. Before the interview she did the research and came up with some solutions. During the interview her induced dissillusionment was profound almost to the point of tears because of the entreanched attitude that you speak of coming from certain sectors of the Perth community. The thing that was so achingly atrocious about this council was that the person with the entrenched 'provincial' attitude and the person asking for my wifes assistance in creating a cultural shift was one and the same person.</p>
    <p>Landry's comment quoted above that "cities have one crucial resourse, their people" is misleading in that it says all things to all the people. The consensus to achieve change is just that, a consensus, and it won't be achieved unless enough people are indifferant and the rest can find a consensus behind their backs.</p>
    <p>My wifes advise was that this particular councils 'one crucial resource' to attract artists was it's trees. Absolutely magnificant river red gums all over the place and quiet distinctive to the area in both size, Zen like granduer and distribution and alone capable of attracting people of the sort of quietude and contemplation needed for an arts community. She suggested that all the council need do was set up a community funded artists retreat in any number of stupendously beautiful locations and the news would soon spread, and she'd be happy to organise it.</p>
    <p>The councillors response was , "You must be joking?". Not only that, one of his suggestions was a hot rodders and spray painters championship up and down the mountain roads.</p>
  • peter
    edited July 2008
    <p>My title for this thread last year was "Perth... that bad?" which I think was as much an outcome of having watched an exodus of architects come to Melbourne from Perth over the last decade or so, as it was reading Landry's comments. I was in high summer Perth in January and was quietly stunned by the quality of the streetscape, arcades, parks, and especially <b>Council House </b>(1962) by<b> </b><a href="" class="mw-redirect" title="Howlett and Bailey Architects">Howlett and Bailey Architects</a>. (here is Jeffrey Howlett's 2005 <a href="">obit</a> - by Geoffrey London). That building is a beauty that we don't know enough about over East.</p>
    <p>The increasingly vocal group of next gen architects and planners, Future Perth. wrote in the West Australian yesterday (well its chairman Sean Morrison did..):</p>
    <p style="margin-left: 40px;"><i>This leads to another question: what building would you put on a postcard to symbolise Perth for friends overseas — the Belltower, the Old Swan Brewery, the Old Mill at South Perth, London Court?</i></p>
    <p><a href=""> 24.05.08</a></p>
    <p><a href=""></a></p>
    <p>Not that I agree a town needs an icon building, but what about Council Bloody House! OK it's modernist and it's a box but it's a bloody good one. I'd buy a postcard.</p>
  • simon seasons
    edited November -1
    <p>It is very good isn't it.</p>
    <p>I really like it that some attempt has been made to shade the windows and that looking closely you can see that the top surface of each of the T's has been sloped for drainage. (unlike a building with similar offset shading devices in Collins St just up from Swanston St that has a serious case of concrete rot)</p>
    <p>And then that the structure of the double cantilevered beams on only two posts has been made visible for all to see. Judging by the number of drawn blinds however I can imagine that it gets quite hot inside the office spaces</p>
  • miles
    edited November -1
    no mr seasons the drawn blinds are because the of perth planners and reglets (the only useful contribution glenn murcutt has made to the english language.) cant stand to look at the bloody beige mess they've created around them.
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