People, Place and Public Space: The Commercial Quay

Elizabeth Quay is one of the most expensive and influential urban redevelopment projects in the history of Perth. The Government of Western Australia committed $440 million to fund the development of the waterfront. Once completed, the surrounding high-rise mixed use developments are expected to attract $2.2 billion in private investment.

The Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA) vision statement is “The river. The city. Together again.” They further envision “this landmark waterfront entertainment and leisure precinct offers something for everyone… A calendar of regular, exciting events and activities means it’s easy to find something to do and something to see at the quay.”

The proposed Elizabeth Quay. Source: PerthNow.



With heavy private investment, a strong point of concern is the proposed connection between the river and the city. Is the MRA creating a public platform to benefit commercial enterprise, resulting in increased property value rather than focusing on a vibrant public space which reconnects the river and the city?


The protest group ‘The City Gatekeepers’ apocalyptic quay vs Ashton Raggatt McDougalls (ARM’s) verson. Source: Take Me to the River: The Story of Perth’s Foreshore.


Julian Bolleter in his book Take Me to the River: The Story of Perth’s Foreshore writes that ‘Directions 2031’, the Department of Planning’s overarching document “does not provide a clear vision for how Perth’s urban form should relate to the Swan River, a situation which is strange given that the River is Perth’s reason for being.” This concern is realised in the way the urban form of the quay will interact with the waterfront.

Elizabeth Quays public space is surrounded by ten building lots. The sites will consist of a hotel, apartments and office space. The podium levels of each site will contain food and beverage outlets and retail spaces which will provide the main areas of activation for the public. Currently, the vacant lots reveal how important the private invested areas will be in determining the success of the public space as there is little activation besides a mini golf course and carousel ride.

The companies who have purchased the Elizabeth Quay lots. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.


Prior to the redevelopment, the waterfront was always utilised for public gatherings and events. The old reclaimed “front lawn” configuration allowed for these events to take place. As far back as 1885 the river served the public with the construction of a public bath house. Currently the undeveloped lots are being used for events until construction begins.

Historic photo of Perth baths. Source: YeLPar blog spot.


Events such as these will become impossible once the blocks are developed. Source: MRA.



The desire to reconnect the river and the city through a commercially dominated precinct seems to contrast with the history of the waterfront. The MRA’s vision statement makes it sound as if they are bringing old friends, the river and the city, “together again.” The commercial development however will seemingly reunite the river and city in a way which differs from anything in the past.

With so much private investment surrounding the public space, the quay could be at risk of favouring people who can afford to utilise the commercial aspects of the waterfront rather than serving the public. This concern of social polarisation is unfortunate given the waterfronts rich history of being a public space for all people.


“Perth+” building by REX is half way through planning approval. Source: Perth Executive Properties.


Although the development succeeds in bringing the river and the city physically closer together, the connection between the two could potentially be disrupted by a subculture within the quay. The public space could end up serving only tourists and residence who can afford the commercial entertainment spaces. This may create a desirable place for holiday makers and the residence, however, it seems the redevelopment is at risk of obstructing the general public’s historic connection to the Swan River.





Bolleter, Julian. Take Me to the River: The Story of Perth’s Foreshore. Perth, Western Australia: UWA publishing, 2015.

Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority “Infrastructure Map Key” Accessed April 26, 2018.

“Elizabeth Quay” Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority. Accessed April 26, 2018.

“The Towers at Elizabeth Quay” The Towers Perth. Accessed April 25, 2018.

“Sky-high Living: Elizabeth Quay towers rise an extra 20 storeys” PerthNow. Accessed April 26, 2018.

Emma Young “Last Elizabeth Quay lost sold will feature school and student housing” The Sydney Morning Herald. Accessed April 25,2018.

“EQ1” Perth Executive Properties. Accessed April 25, 2018.

“OLD PERTH #21 – Perth City Baths” YeLPar. Accessed April 26, 2018.