Feb 17, 2012

Perth facing the future as Australia’s magnet – Opinion – West Australian

Perth is a city of opportunity, blessed by the triple fortune of natural beauty, a Mediterranean climate and the wealth buried beneath its State’s topsoil. With glimmering beaches and a picture postcard river flowing through its heart, it is easy to see why Perth is a magnet for Australians seeking the good life. But we now know a whole lot more about the city of Perth.

For instance, its people love their bedrooms with more per household (3.2) than anywhere else in Australia. With only 2.5 people per home, that’s a lot of spare rooms. They also prefer a house to a flat. No other city in the nation has fewer people living in a flat. It also costs a lot to build a new home in Perth, far outstripping other major cities.

Perth is extremely liveable, coming ninth on the influential Economist Intelligence Unit ranking of 140 world cities. However, it retains a love affair with the car with 80 percent of commuting trips by private vehicle. That said, with the opening of new lines, rail patronage is growing at a remarkable 8.2 percent, well ahead of even Singapore and Hong Kong. People are also hopping on their bikes with three million trips to and from the CBD, a 300 percent rise since 1998.

These facts are contained in a unique publication – The State of Australian Cities 2011. It provides a snapshot of our major cities, defined as those with populations above 100,000.  What this and future editions serve to do is to enable us to compare our cities and check progress over time, towards becoming more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Australia’s cities generate 80 percent of our national wealth and are home to three out of every four of us. The charming perception of us as a nation of stoic miners and bushies could hardly be more misplaced. Since 2007 the Australian Government has begun re-engaging with our cities because they face unprecedented pressures – population growth, housing affordability, growing congestion and urban sprawl are just some of them.

The State of Australia Cities shows that while Perth is the fastest growing capital city in the country it lags well behind in several key areas. Recycling rates are the lowest of any capital city and the people of Perth produce more than double the waste of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Waste committed to landfill is so big, it rivals Sydney and Melbourne.

The Federal Government is investing $3.7 billion over six years for historic changes to transport infrastructure across WA. There are major upgrades to the Great Eastern Highway, the road network around the airport (the Gateway Project), and reuniting the CBD with Northbridge by sinking the rail line.

Following a COAG agreement, all major cities are finalising plans showing how they are preparing for the future. Federal infrastructure funding will depend on how well they address nine areas of concern, include land-release with a balance of in-fill, preserving corridors at transport gateways and addressing the needs of an ageing population.  We live in the world’s most competitive and fastest growing region. Our cities must be ready to seize the opportunities that come with that.