Until now, urban designers at the Australian Urban Design Research Centre have shared their stories of how public spaces around the world have been shaped by the relationships between people, their politics and culture. In my most recent interview, Zoe Myers reflected on how Perth’s population has re-imagined the spaces of the CBD and Northbridge by engaging more with urbanism, perhaps after having witnessed examples from other cities. As a result, the people in the city and local government initiatives came together and developed Perth into the vibrant place it is today. To complete the series, I wanted to understand how Perth is currently seen through the public’s eye. My friends Bohdan Warchomij, Ruby Low and Steven Peh give us an insight into their thoughts and experiences of Perth. Ultimately, I hope to discover if their values and opinions about public spaces align with the urban designers I’ve spoken to.
“I just turned 70, so that’s kind of a nice age to look back on life, you know. I came here when I was a three-year-old kid, my parents were kind of Ukrainian migrants…I always thought I’d become a writer but I ended up being a photographer…I’m on the streets all the time. I photograph people even when I’m not photographing, I mean, when I’m not getting paid. For me it’s a daily thing, I always walk out of the house with a camera…Oh yeah, it’s Bohdan Warchomij, and it’s spelt B-O-H-D-A-N W-A-R-C-H-O-M-I-J. How’s your Ukrainian? You don’t speak it!” laughed Bohdan.
“My name is Ruby, I’m 24. I was born in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Actually no, Subang Jaya, sorry. And then I moved here to Perth when I was 11 years old. I studied commerce and economics at UWA. When I first moved here I lived in Shelley, and then I moved to Riverton,” said Ruby. “My name is Steven Peh. I am 24 years old on June 3rd. I was born in Newman, WA ‘cause dad was in the mines and I moved to Perth when I was 3 years old. I lived in Leeming and then I went to Bateman and then I went to Rossmoyne High School. And now I’m working as a finance broker,” said Steven. “What were you doing before?” asked Ruby. “I went on Masterchef and studied an accounting degree.”
“I think it was Lonely Planet called us Dullsville at one stage, but I don’t think it’s dull at all. The city has actually got a lot of very interesting people living here…I mean there are a lot of migrants and travellers to this part of the world and a lot of them have stayed because they like the city. They like the weather, they like the friendliness of people. And sometimes you have to get out and about to experience the city. You have to search a little bit. But there’s some interesting music happening here, a lot of the world’s most famous bands have come from Perth, you know.,” said Bohdan. “I’m out and about all the time. I’ll go to The Bird and listen to some DJs.”
“I’m pretty happy with Perth,” said Steven. “I’m a Perth boy so I know how laid-back it is…the general vibe on the street is just take your time, like what’s the rush? ‘Cause a guy from Sydney came over the other day…He’s like, ‘I swear I’m walking the fastest out of everyone here!’…He said, ‘I felt like everyone was walking to a symphony orchestra, just so slow and flowy, whereas in Sydney it’s like jazz!’” “Like jazz!” interrupted Ruby, “Sydney’s friggin’ metal, man! That’s how I felt!”
“Well I guess what makes Perth, Perth is that it’s quite laid-back, it’s quite chilled. If there’s something on every night, although it would be much more fun, I think we’ll get tired of it eventually. I guess events here and there which they are doing now. You know like Twilight Markets and the exhibition in South Perth and stuff like that. But I don’t think they need to change [Perth] that much,” said Ruby.
“Oh that’s one thing I would change, Perth doesn’t have patience,” said Steven. “No, it’s not patience they just don’t know how to line up…any sort of like fast-paced and dense city, they know how to line up,” said Ruby. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that Perth is selfish when it comes to public space,” said Steven. “Because there’s so much space here, you know. They’re used to big spaces…and they want all these spaces that they really don’t need. Whereas when you see denser cities like they know how to use what little space they have with the most efficient capacity,” said Ruby.
“When you first said ‘public space’ I thought of really high-density areas like in the city where people are walking. Footpaths were actually my main idea of public space cause it’s shared by so many people every day,” explained Steven. “It’s where people gather…when you just see people,” said Ruby. “Sometimes it’s for entertainment. Sometimes it’s for music you know, or it could be political…There was a protest about a support thing for gay marriage at one stage…they had a huge one in Russell Square as well1. So those public spaces become areas of political change,” said Bohdan. “So I think that’s important for a city…a lot of people don’t take advantage of their own city,” he added.
Public spaces are ultimately defined by the people using the space. Steven continues to explain,“…when you’re walking with a hundred of people on the same street, it’s really public. There’s no real, like you have your own space but anyone can walk past you and it doesn’t matter…I like it when I’m walking in the city or in Subi and everyone’s doing their own thing. Everyone has their own destination, but everyone is sharing that path…It’s nice just for everyone to relax and walk and trust in each other that you can get to one place and someone’s going to go somewhere else, but at one point in time you cross paths…What’s your view?” asked Steven, “I bet it’s completely different than mine.”
“I would say [it’s important] because…I find it annoying that when people can put ownership on something that was there from the very beginning. Like for example if they decided to privatise a reserve and then people won’t have access to that space anymore, and it’s kind of unfair to everyone else that can’t afford that space. Public space is where you can go free willingly and not worry about what other people think…I think you definitely need to have a space to do that, and not just at home,” said Ruby. “I think diversity is definitely important. To make sure that public space is welcoming,” said Steven. “Yeah, I think they’re important because, you know, it’s like the heartbeat of the city. If people go there, they’re on display, they’re interacting, they’re commenting on the city, they’re enjoying the city,” said Bohdan.
Australian cities have been criticised that its suburbanization have produced cities that lack a strong sense of place3. A strong identity can create distinctiveness between places which can foster a sense of belonging for citizens. As a result, people may connect with Perth more from having strong social relationships, rather than with our public spaces.
“Whenever I come home from a holiday, at the airport I’ll feel a little left out like I don’t belong…But over time I start to feel like I belong again because I have all my friends and family here,” confessed Ruby. “I guess my life is wholly based upon the enjoyment of spending time with friends and family. And we make of what is available to us in Perth…” said Steven. As human beings, we all need something familiar we can connect with. Having a strong identity in the public realm can encourage connection and participation, which is vital for social inclusion. Elizabeth Quay, a highly controversial major civic project has attempted to create a new identity for Perth that would attract many tourists and visitors2.
“Did you hear about how they recorded the numbers for Elizabeth Quay recently?” asked Steven. “So the Barnett government made it so that they were expecting 7.4 million people to go there per year. 4 million go to the Colosseum, 3.5 million to the Empire State Building, 7 million people go to the Eiffel Tower, and they’re expecting 7.4 million people from Perth…So they’ve counted 4 million since the start of January 16’…But that is when people within the vicinity that literally walk past it, you don’t even have to go into it, counted as one4. ‘Cause they try to get the numbers up right, to get support from the sponsors. So the idea of a government falsifying information to enhance the view of the public space to get it where it’s at, compared to what it’s actually at, is always the two differences right?” said Steve.
“I think it’s sad when a politician has to lie to us and really they shouldn’t be doing that at all. It’s just sad. And it’s unnecessary. I mean the place stands for itself, you know. They just need to get off their asses and do more things to promote the place…I remember when Elizabeth Quay first opened up. This city felt like Sydney to me because it was dense, people were walking five deep and all over the city. No matter where you went…all the bars were full, all the restaurants were full. Life was spilling over. Even the street people were making money. it was quite impressive. When people have a reason to go out, they transform. And they transform the city,” exclaimed Bohdan.
This series has looked at local and global examples of public spaces and although they may be different around the world, it shows that we innately want the same things; freedom, a sense of belonging and to feel a part of the places we live. As Bohdan said, we need to take advantage of our own city, and there are huge opportunities for us to shape Perth’s future city. Public spaces are not only driven by trained professionals but also strongly rely on people using and adapting the space. If there is anything I have learnt from this journey, is that although we are all different, our public spaces recognise that we are allowed to be, and perhaps, it is individuality that makes the most exciting, vibrant cities that are brought together in public.
Lunchtimes with Architects is a series of blog posts that aims to enlighten readers about public spaces from around the world. Each blog post will feature a member from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC) and will focus on their unique story and showcase how powerful urban public places can really be. This series finishes with three people from Perth’s community who shares their perspective of Perth.
Low, R. and Steven Peh, interviewed by Melissa Soh, 2017, Inglewood, Perth.
Warchomij, B., interviewed by Melissa Soh, 2017, La Veen, Perth.
1. Ray Sparvell, “Thousands brave rain in support of same-sex marriage at Perth ‘Love Rally,’” WA today, June 5, 2015, accessed 25 May, 2017, Ihttp://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/thousands-brave-rain-in-support-of-samesex-marriage-at-perth-love-rally-20150705-gi5huq.html
2. Laura Gartry, “Perth’s Elizabeth Quay lacks soul, sense of place, US urban art expert Deborah Cullinan says,” ABC News, 2 April, 2016, accessed 25 May, 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-02/elizabeth-quay-lacks-soul-expert-says/7294002
3. Michelle Cramer, “The Australian sameness: Why do our cities lack identity,” Hames Sharley, 11 August, 2014, accessed 25 May, 2017, http://www.hamessharley.com.au/knowledge-article/the-australian-sameness-why-do-our-cities-lack-identity
4. “Government accused of false tourist numbers,” The West Australian, accessed 20 May, 2017, https://thewest.com.au/news/elizabeth-quay/government-accused-of-false-tourist-numbers-bc-5418603676001
Feature Image: Bohdan Warchomij. 2017. Perth City