Perth is the latest Australasian city to seek an urban culture kickstart by importing an expert. The Australian reported last month that urban planner Charles Landry was recently "thinker in residence".
...It was not enough to turn to conventional fields such as architecture, engineering and land-use planning alone to fix a city. "There is no simplistic, 10-point plan, but strong principles can help send good city making on its way," he says.
So how does Landry work? He walks around and hangs out, having lots of coffee with people and taking thousands of photos. Written reports, he says, end up unread on shelves. Landry firstly identified the signage as being a problem.
Perth was of the plethora of signs prohibiting almost every conceivable street activity. It mirrored a mind-set of "huge inertia, a culture of fear and risk aversion" among Perth's bureaucratic leaders, says Landry, who found himself puzzled and frustrated that one of Australia's wealthiest cities said no with such frequency.
Landry went back to the UK without setting anything in train, except possible a will to look at the issue, gauging by a lecture he gave attended by 1000 people. Without being a disciple of the Richard Florida culture-saves-the-city model, Landry has a few suggestion for Perth in this department:
- Perth could hold the world's biggest exhibition of Aboriginal art
- a Festival of the Dull [???]
- a world-class environmental healing industry
"There's an astonishing opportunity in Perth, but it carries with it global responsibilities. I just can't see the thinking brain that is looking at future-proofing this city."
This whole process of councils hiring gurus to come over and check them out reminds me of a certain fairy tale in which a witch asks a mirror "who is the fairest of them all".
I would expect that Perth's architecture and urban planning worlds have more than enough talent, experience and local knowledge to be able to improve their own city given the right platform and some political clout. Landry doesn't completely disagree: "My heat of the moment' approach has strengths and weaknesses. It can give an unfiltered freshness, but may lack a reflective perspective and some points may have been forgotten." Landry, and the media coverage of his month in town, has raised the profile of FORM Contemporary Craft and Design Inc., who flew him out here. They have a website filled with knowledgeable Perth boosters, mostly suited locals photographed in laneways enthusing about all the possibilities. Like other cities going through the same process, the following jargon words and phrases are repeated ad nauseum without much in the way of explanation:
capitalise on water assets
innovative ideas incubator
Does every city need a CBD buzzing 24/7. Even LA is trying to do it. What's wrong with having a few boring 9 to 5 cities?
AUSTRALIAN 15.03.07 "Shaking up Dullsville"
LANDRY'S PERTH ARTICLES