Perth WA, The Northbridge Link and a new Perth City Square

Perth. 29 November 2009. [edited 24 May 2016]

See also Perth Waterfront Development

An empty expanse of concrete does not a city square make.

If we’re to have a new city square, and I am TOTALLY for it, let's make it a REAL city square. Let's surround it with people. Let's circle it with shops, cafés, residential and tourist accommodation and outside dining. I don't mean an odd chair here and there, I mean lots of chairs. Squadrons of the things, lined up in ranks ready to attack. And, obviously, an appropriate number of tables.

I lived in Luxembourg for 10 years and during summer place d’Armes, the city square of slightly larger size than that rumored for the new Northbridge link Perth square, was one-third to one-half full of outside dining. For that matter in the middle of winter and covered with snow it was full of people, hmmm... gluhwein and thüringer flashback.

With a combination of commercial and residential surroundings, Luxembourg city square was a fantastic place that was always alive. I spent time reading the paper over breakfast, a quiet beer over lunch or late dinner with friends and their kiddies (and chasing an 18-month old Alex around). If Luxembourg (the country) with a population of 466,557 and Luxembourg (the city) with a population of 77,325 can have a real city square why can’t Perth with a population of 1.447 million do similar?

In 2001 when I first arrived back in Perth I had some fun wandering the city and discovering what had changed in the 14 years I was away (there were 4 years in Melbourne). Taking a rest I planned on a sandwich and quiet drink in the closest I could find to a city square. In the one and only business I could find around Forrest Place anything stronger than a soft drink was out of the question.

On further walking around the city I found it was a ghost town before 1700 (that's 5pm to you). Visitors don't stop being visitors after business hours. People walk, talk, look, relax and buy stuff (also known as shopping). And think, remember thinking?. Remember what you say to friends when they ask "how was your holiday?" Can't we try to avoid "nothing to do!" as an immediate and obvious response?

We say we want international visitors but we are a joke. Building a convention center was a good idea, internally it seems fine, the external architectural debate I'll try to leave to someone and sometime else (but perhaps throw a lot more trees around it). Following it up with more Perth hasn't happened. Attend a conference then try to do anything outside business hours: good luck with that! Sure there's a hidden niche venue here and there, but really! It's embarrassing.

A recent move to extended shopping hours in the city and surrounding areas is encouraging, but more people, more life, a reason to be in the city and enjoying life amongst other people is required to make Perth flourish outside of business hours.

The Northbridge link, horse shoe bridge upgrade and new Perth City Square have great potential. But let's not base it on a close minded, repetitive, concreted nowhere of the past and pi$$ resources up against the wall.

Unfortunately one of the issues to overcome before we can move to a civilized plan for a lively, active city square is the need to educate the occasional loser that alcohol does not mean it's a race to see who can pass out first whilst leaving our fantastic, yet overworked, hospital staff handling the collateral damage caused by out of control twits. People need to learn that a drink or three can be enjoyed slowly, safely and quietly without damaging themselves, others or property and without disturbing those around them.

The unofficial motto of Luxembourg was "we want to stay the way we are". Does that remind you of anywhere? Perth perhaps? Fine for Luxembourg, but remember their city center is not a ghost town after hours but a vibrant center of people, shopping, cafés and life (and daylight saving)! During my first 5 years in Luxembourg I lived a 3 minute walk from the center of the capital, on the main strip between uptown and the literal downtown (Scott's Pub my favorite).

I'm not a big party goer nor socializer by any calculation but I was surrounded by people, felt safe and I had the time of my life. I'd love to see that combination of a lively, cultured, quiet yet partied and alive city in my hometown (that's Perth, Australia if you're still catching up).

Let's go beyond what we've done before. Let's go further than what we've already got. Let's be brave and make changes that give the city a new life. Let's not be afraid of building something because "it's different" or "we've not got one of those". Let's go beyond making pretty drawings and plans for the future. The future is now, wait another day and it'll be yesterday.