For too long Perth has been known for its isolation and in 2000 Lonely Planet even named Perth ‘Dullsville’, due to its lack of urban vitality1. As a city we should have a collective identity for Perth that we can be proud of. With recent large scale civic projects such as Elizabeth Quay and Yagan Square, we should question ourselves, ‘are we trying to manufacture an identity for Perth?’ Dr. Zoe Myers, a recent Master of Urban Design graduate tells us about how Perth has evolved.
“Growing up in Perth I think that public spaces have gone through such dramatic changes. Certainly since I was a teenager. There weren’t really many places to go” said Zoe. “The Perth CBD and Northbridge at that time were pretty dead – Northbridge had quite a bad reputation for being unsafe. We often headed to suburban centres like Leederville or to Fremantle rather than go into the City. There was also the legacy of the Perth Cultural Centre which was very empty. And there were no small bars which have made such a difference in changing the landscape of Perth. I can remember when the first small bar opened (or the first I was aware of) which was 399 on William Street. And it was so exciting! That was only in 2009. I’m not sure what was being planned but it felt like the beginning of William Street growing into what it is becoming now.”
This change was the outcome of the State Government’s liquor licensing reforms in 2007, opening the doors for the establishment of Perth’s vibrant ‘small bar’ scene,2 “…relaxing those regulations just transformed everything” said Zoe.
“…in that relatively short period of time, that elusive activation and buzz that people try to create was I think being created by itself”
“There seemed to be a big cultural shift in terms of what was desired by spaces in Perth. In the late 90s most people moved to Melbourne, Sydney or London, the places where things were happening. Perth wasn’t going through the big mineral resource craze yet. But by the end of the 2000s my age group was coming into their 30s and many were moving back here to have kids, get married. So there was this influx of people who had been away experiencing these other places and coming back to expect and to create new ideas here. Bringing all that knowledge and creativity that was previously drained out to other cities. All of a sudden there was this kind of wave of people doing stuff here!”
“So I think it has been this age group that has led this transformation…just tired of the whole ‘Dullsville’ tag and people saying ‘but Perth’s got great beaches!’ And you want to say ‘yeah, but it’s got other stuff too!’ You just wanted to be proud of Perth. So it’s been really fascinating to live through that, and really exciting.”
Time and time again history has proven to us that public spaces provide a platform for people to make changes in their city, not from a designed top down approach. Such was the case with people fighting for freedom in Iran, as told my Maryam. Or Hans from the Netherlands explaining how people created compact, vibrant, city centres when they resisted to build into the landscapes. It gives people a right to the city and creates opportunity for social inclusion, and giving people the licence to make the city how they want to live it, “…in that relatively short period of time, that elusive activation and buzz that people try to create was I think being created by itself” explained Zoe. People changed Perth before, why can’t we do it again?
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 week features Dr. Zoe Myers who is an Urban Designer and has successfully completed a Master of Urban Design at AUDRC with her thesis ‘Designing restorative urban spaces’ in 2016, which focusses on green spaces and mental health. She has also completed a PhD in history and teaches in the Bachelor and Master Urban Design Programme (UWA). Having grown up in Perth, Zoe allows us to see some of the changes Perth has experienced.
Myers, Z., interviewed by Melissa Soh, 2017, Australian Urban Design Research Centre, Perth.
1. Wojcik, C. “Tourist Perspectives of Perth in Social Media.” FACTBase Bulletin 20, 2010. http://www.committeeforperth.com.au/research/researchers
2. City of Perth. “Small Bars.” City of Perth, Accessed 14 April, 2017. https://www.perth.wa.gov.au/planning-development/city-initiatives/small-bars