Dare to change

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PropertyESP attended the Committee for Perth lunch last week which was delving into the topic of density.

The guest speakers were Emma Booth from North Sydney Council and Associate Professor Julian Bolleter from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre at The University of Western Australia.

North Sydney Council has just undertaken a significant town planning exercise to commence urban renewal in St Leonards, which is just a ten minute train ride from Sydney CBD.  Currently the St Leonards area has a mix of high rise options ranging from 2 through to 16 storeys.

I thought one of the most interesting points raised by Ms Booth was that the Council had been so fearful of community backlash over density during the 1980/1990’s that the area in fact had stood still, to the point that the current community perception was that this locale was slightly dirty and dull.

When a neighbouring council approved a 34 storey redevelopment on the St Leonards boundary, this catalysed the Council into action and they identified potential sites for renewal which were outdated and felt to be an eyesore.

The resulting urban rejuvenation identified 3ha of land and the Council took a bold step by agreeing to a design which saw the infill start at 3-6 storeys before then stepping up to 12-16 storeys and then finally 18-40 storeys.

The Council was keen to ensure that these developments were a mix of residential and commercial so there would be sufficient population to sustain the businesses.

In conjunction with this increased density, the Council undertook to upgrade parks and community infrastructure, and introduce other elements such as innovation hubs and day care centres.

There is no doubt that there were many WA Councils in the room hanging onto Ms Booth’s words because they too are about to undergo urban rejuvenation as a result of Colin Barnett’s mandate.

And we can all identify areas, such as Scarborough, that are long overdue for urban rejuvenation but which have stood still because of the fear of community backlash.

Infill is part of WA’s future – and at some stage we are going to have to be bold about how we move forward otherwise our communities will turn on us – in part because they feel their areas are outdated and dull!

As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.  The question is – are our Councils or Government prepared to get in the kitchen and start cooking?

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