I quite like the idea of a new waterfront recreational and restaurant area, and agree with proponents that it could add to the life of the city. I just think the proposals so far have been for the wrong bit.
I think the heritage considerations of the Esplanade area are sufficiently significant to warrant thinking again about the site of future waterfront development, and I don’t just mean the built environment. Having said that, I think the built heritage value in that precinct deserves a good deal more consideration than is being shown in the current proposal.
There’s a growing and quite healthy small bar and restaurant scene coming along in the block bounded by St George’s Terrace, William and Barrack Streets, and a good portion of the attraction is filling in the heritage buildings along the little side streets. I think more towering office blocks would further overshadow these existing heritage buildings.
One of the uses to which the Esplanade has been put by Western Australians is as a site for protest. I can’t count how many social justice, workers’ rights and peace movement marches have started and/or ended on the grass at the Esplanade. This includes, of course, the recent protest to save the Esplanade.
Perhaps it is a sign of the decreasing propensity of Western Australians to protest much at all that this sense of history can be so easily set to one side.
I’m not so wild about the argument that Riverside Drive should be preserved. Try as I might, I can’t get as excited about the heritage value of roads. That may be a deficiency, but, if so, it’s one I’m prepared to live with. I agree that Riverside Drive divides the city from the river in a way that prevents pedestrian access.
In my opinion there are strong reasons for relocating the site of the proposed development to the area at the eastern end of Supreme Court Gardens.
Firstly, it’s a car park. It’s ugly. If a reason not to develop that part of the city is that it’d spoil the view from the Concert Hall, stop to think what kind of a view it has at the moment. By contrast, the only real view from the Convention Centre is from windows looking over the Esplanade (albeit, you have to look past the train station). The artists impressions of the proposed development has 30 storey buildings blocking that view.
Secondly, it would extend rather than merely consolidate the connection between the city and the waterfront. What the government is talking about now is revitalisation of the relationship between the city and the river, not creating a new relationship. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it is a limited vision that comes, as I have said, at too high a price in terms of what is lost.
Thirdly, and finally for now, it would promote the development of the social and economic life of the eastern end of the city. A great deal of construction is taking place providing high-density residential buildings in that part of the city. A waterfront development further along the riverfront would inject a bit of life into that part of town. Yes, there’s development at the Causeway, but here is a chance to build a more rounded, better connected whole.
In recent years Langley Park has become the site of some aeronautical shenanigans from which many Western Australians get a fair amount of enjoyment. It’s a spectacle that promotes Perth to a global television audience. I am sure that there is a way to ensure that a development replacing the car park in front of the Concert Hall does not impinge on that event.
But even if it did, is that truly sufficient reason upon which to base development decisions such as this? Really? An air show?
Though a disallowance motion in the Legislative Council was defeated by the government this week, and there is a danger that parties have assumed entrenched positions, it’s not too late to change your minds, members. Once you’ve destroyed the Esplanade we won’t get it back.
Don’t do it.