Livable Cities

Melbourne’s planning guru Rob Adams AM is in Perth and I was luck enough to see him at the Committee For Perth’s lunch at the Convention Centre.  He gave his talk – 30 years past, 30 years forward in 30 minutes – to outline the journey for Melbourne to be voted number 1 in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Livability Survey 2012.  Rob emphasised that a city’s transformation should be a long term project – great cities do not happen overnight – showing slides of Melbourne 30 years ago, which resonated for me, being the time I moved from Melbourne to WA.  He presented maps showing public infrastructure layered with time – basic infrastructure such as trees, parks, street cafes, cycle-ways and public laneways.  There were graphic pictures of ever increasing building sizes, resulting in wide shop-fronts on the primary street, but large blank walls around the back and side, think Myer’s Queen Street back end.

Jan Ghel talks of the spaces between buildings and that these spaces are for people, he has built a very successful consultancy business on these principles.  Rob acknowledged Jan’s work in improving Melbourne and work he has done with the city of Perth.  The role of activating public spaces cannot be overemphasised in revitalising cities.  Melbourne are focusing on this, including basic things such as the right choice of street pavers and planting trees at every opportunity.

Looking into the future we were shown Rob’s now famous plans for accommodating 50% of Melbourne’s predicted population growth along transit routes.  This is the result of a comprehensive study examining development potential along their tram and rail routes.   They did a lot of work looking at inhibitors to development including recent development, public spaces, sites with heritage structures and sites with access constraints, to develop a plan to accommodate population growth and add vibrancy to the areas, with nominally 4-5 storey development.

A panel discussion followed with Marion Fulker, Committee for Perth CEO, asking Rob Adams, Perth City Architect Craig Smith and Planning Minister John Day a selection of questions.  To be honest that was a bit of a let down after such a vibrant presentation and have worked better as a Q&A session.  I felt privileged to listen to such a successful planner and articulate speaker and came away inspired.  For a person at my table to say they’ve seen it all before was like standing in front of a Van Gogh and saying I’ve seen all those colours before.

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