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Another redevelopment authority perspective

28 Feb 2012

Another redevelopment authority perspective Image

By Peter Crowley

Having worked in Docklands for eight years, seven of those with VicUrban and nearly four on the Docklands project, it was interesting when I recently worked for another redevelopment authority in Perth.  

For family reasons I moved west for most of 2011 and spent six months as the senior policy officer with the East Perth Redevelopment Authority (EPRA).  VicUrban is now Places Victoria and EPRA is now the Metropolitan

Redevelopment Authority (MRA) but their work is fundamentally very similar – with a focus on planning and urban renewal

MRA is a smaller organisation than Places Victoria but currently has 10 large and important Perth projects on its plate, ranging from waterside developments such as Riverside and the Perth Waterfront, through renewal projects such as Subiaco, to developing new areas created by undergrounding freeways and rail lines, as in the case of New Northbridge and Perth City Link.  None of these was such a large project as Docklands but many were significant, billion-dollar-plus projects.

MRA does excellent work integrating affordable housing into its developments.  New buildings must provide 12 per cent of dwellings for affordable rent or purchase and these are pepper-potted through the buildings rather than grouped together.  In this way they “blend” in and create community diversity.  This stands in contrast to Docklands’ provision of key worker housing in dedicated buildings such as the Merchant.

MRA is particularly strong on place activation.  As the Northbridge area has developed after the undergrounding of the Graham Farmer Freeway, MRA has retained ownership of some buildings and facilitated occupancy by a diverse range of businesses that increase the attraction of the area.  

Walk along William St and spaces that would otherwise have been empty have been filled by artist studios, a micro-cinema, a herb shop, art supplies and a music store.  These sit nicely in a district full of restaurants, bars and cafes and add significantly to local attraction.  When the authority divests itself of these assets they will be thriving business settings rather than empty buildings.

MRA also facilitates street performances, outdoor lectures and speakers, markets, temporary gardens, and outdoor film screenings, all of which adds activation to the Northbridge precinct.  

Docklands is a very large redevelopment project but after working on other redevelopments in the west I am struck by the scale of Docklands.  Our wide promenades and broad pavements create space but there’s often a lack of intimacy and “human scale”.  

This may change in time and is exacerbated by spaces between Docklands precincts, but, after visiting warm, atmospheric developments like Claisebrook Cove and Subiaco, I was struck by the thought that the open space which was one of Docklands’ hallmarks might actually work against the development of local character.

My personal viewpoints aside, MRA is very aware of the Docklands development and regularly casts its eyes to the east to monitor progress here.  Hopefully Places Victoria also keeps abreast of the work of Australia’s other redevelopment authorities with a view to seeing what succeeds in other places.

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