Two years ago, perhaps the best we could say about Perth before Covid was that ‘Perth is OK’.
In the reset that has happened, arguably we took it all back. Little by little, Perth has become a desirable destination for people from around the World and including the Eastern Coast of Australia where we saw the effects of Lockdown and people (Interestingly even in say Melbourne) seeking space and migrating out of the Cities.
Anecdotally, in 2019, Investors and the Banks would barely glance sideways at Perth in terms of providing funding, now they actively seek out opportunities here.
In this moment in time, Perth is more than just OK. People in Europe and the UK were actively jealous of the lifestyle in Western Australia. In many ways, here represents an optimistic future with largely blue skies and space and access to the ocean and nature.
We are now just realising the value of what we really have.
WA ISLAND STATE
• WA has a reputation as a “covid safe” state = More freedom & business as usual.
• WA has had less lockdown’s with only 69 days in lockdown compared with Melbourne and London with more than 200 days in lockdown.
• WA has more space which is underutilised.
In some ways, due to our isolation, we are possibly 20 years behind Europe and perhaps 10 years behind Sydney or Melbourne, Brisbane in terms of Urban design and Planning.
Which is a maybe a Good thing?
As we can Learn from their lessons. Italy dodged being redeveloped after the war and remains intact largely redeveloped and is better than the UK townscapes where it was overhauled.
Before the Covid 19 Pandemic began at the end of 2019 The Western Australian Planning Commission had already begun to put in place policies which improved the built environment in WA. In 2014 the WAPC published the State Planning Strategy 2050 which would inform planning policies and decisions throughout the state. Much change was already happening in Metropolitan Perth prior to Covid. Infill development was on the cards and this was being experimentally tested in many central suburbs, often established places where people wanted to live.
CHANGE IN DEMAND
And then appetite changes in the market. Real estate professionals will tell you that people’s attitudes to where they lived became more about:
• having some land
• not being transitory
• access to open space
• neighbourhood feeling vs high density living
• The appetite for high rise/ High density housing has reduced.
• There have been less development applications for multi-res apartments.
• There has been an increase in applications for grouped dwellings and town houses. Needs to be done WELL.
• Trend for larger high quality apartments with ample space and storage for residents transitioning from homes to apartments.
• Access to natural light, ventilation with large outdoors spaces and landscaping.
What is Soft City?
The Soft City is a book by David Sim, who writes about living locally in an urbanising world, from a European (Danish) perspective. It is essentially about building appropriate density for everyday life. Both before and after Covid, this book has informed our office about the way we design spaces. We reference this book specifically as it also addresses to the question as to ‘How do we create Better Neighbourhoods in a Post Covid Perth’? Why is this important? Perth has always been an island economy, perhaps even more so than ever. Pre-Covid Supply Chain represented a globalised economy carefully linked to Asia in general and China in particular. Pre Covid design is premised around these supply chains, which are now severely stressed. We now have the opportunity to aim for a more self-sufficient WA economy.
To highlight this, I’ll mention a conversation that was had with the Head of National Australia Bank Asia-Pacific who observed that in addition to significant material shortages, we have very significant skills shortages. In his view, there are about 2 million positions needed to be filled throughout Australia as a whole due to Border restrictions and the relocation of workers for other countries back home. That’s 2m people now and within the next 2 years,
A substantial proportion of these professional and skilled workers are needed in WA (look at shortages in Woodside, Rio) who are urgently asking to fill critical vacancies.
Even now, there is a shortage of suitable homes within places that are desirable and where people want to live. We will need to think carefully about how to accommodate new people into the state in a sustainable and well considered way, which doesn’t further disrupt our lifestyle.
MATERIAL & SKILLS SHORTAGES.
• No migrant workers due to border restrictions.
• Economic stimulus worldwide + Covid related restrictions = Supply chain deficiencies.
• Increased demand for housing + escalating material supply prices = longer construction timeframes.
In 1933, the CIAM Charter for City Planning advocated that City functions should be all separated. So Residential areas, workplaces (eg. CBD) and entertainment districts (plus traffic to be apart). This has formed the guiding principles in planning since then. We have ended up in many instances with Free-standing, monofunctionally built-up areas surrounded by vaguely defined spaces.
Now this is changing….
Covid brought into focus Physical isolation from our friends and families within our homes and neighbourhoods, across states and countries. Even before Covid many people were suffering from social isolation due to the digital age and social media…
Density Living occurs in various forms, including our typical high-density neighbourhoods in outer suburbs, – urban sprawl extending north and south but often without the infrastructure for people; Car based design predominates.
CHANGING OUR FOCUS
Covid 19 has turned the world as we knew it upside down. It has created an opportunity to stop and reassess the needs of people and communities in the wake of the global pandemic.
To take an extract from the book Soft Cities:
“When talking about the human environment, towns and cities, urban design, or placemaking, the word neighbour is always useful. Think of your neighbour and you immediately think of another human being. It is not a vague planning concept or an unspecified urban phenomenon, but a living person, someone like you but different. Neighbour is not a technical term or a planning term or professional planning jargon, but a simple term that everyone knows and understands. At it’s simplest, neighbour can mean the person next door. At it’s broadest in can mean all of humanity.
Meanwhile, in the established suburbs. This image reflects some of the challenges we have been facing recently in this space: How to create thoughtful and ethical design going forward within established areas in Perth. SPECIFICALLY, if critical numbers of professionals and trades and their families will be moving into the state, how can we manage this in a successful and meaningful way.? Retaining what we have, whilst also allowing for people to live in desirable areas where there is demand.
To do this, we have to go back to the idea of neighbourhood, and designing buildings to be good neighbours to its location.