The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Charles Landry hands down his verdict

Charles Landry speaking about Perth This evening I was at the Maj to listen to Charles Landry report on his findings from applying his expertise in the evolution of cities to our fair settlement. As proof of the fact that he’s struck a chord in his short time here, all 900 seats of the stalls and dress circle were filled.

(Incidentally, Mr. Landry was in residence in Adelaide and Canberra before Perth … I wonder if they took to him so strongly? Or are their growing pains less severe?)

His presentation was charismatic and engaging, even when he repeated oft-cited observations — that Perth is ideally placed for an Asia-centric future, and that if we continue growing as we are there’ll be nothing but suburbia for 100km in every direction — and recycled one-liners from the essays he’s written for the West Australian. He expressed dislike for Perth’s many concrete-blob brutalist buildings (think Alexander Library or Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital), citing them as examples of a Perth that is uninviting and saying “no”. And while I agree entirely, his critique of our architecture was the most controversial part of his speech — when he said that that coloured house by Scarborough Beach was a move in the right direction, there were several incredulous scoffs from the crowd.

I haven’t yet read his report in detail, but it seems to build on ideas that he’s described before, and it’s safe to say that it lays down a positive new way of thinking about our city:

What is Perth doing to future-proof itself? It is understandable that the resources super-cycle can blind people to looking ahead, and it is easy to be swept along by the wave of prosperity and become complacent. Are the education resources of Perth treated as a strategic export industry? Are the creative industries seen as crucial to Perth’s well-being?

Walking away from the theatre, the gentleman I spoke to (I neglected to ask his name, although he’s active in arts administration?) had the same question on his mind as I did: what’s the next step? I think the simplest of the many take-home messages from Charles Landry is that generally speaking, we are short of culture — not that we lack great musicians or interesting sculptors (quite the contrary), but that their presence can’t be felt when wandering around Perth. Thus, we should get behind any initiative that makes the arts more accessible to people, whether it’s a traditional idea like sculptures on footpaths or a more eccentric one like painting buildings (or projecting onto them).

His other suggestions are harder for lowly plebs to support: for instance, Landry supports green roofs and solar panels on buildings, but that’s up to owners more than anyone else. He’s also as scathing as he can be of the clutter of bureaucracy and regulation that chokes our city, making it into a “no” place that stifles creativity. Indeed, I was horrified by his anecdote about visiting Woodside Plaza and taking some pictures, only to have security come over and question his presence (can you believe it’s common practice?). But regulation “spaghetti” is a systemic problem that can’t be overcome without englightened souls high-up, unless there’s overwhelming public pressure — which, admittedly, is something we can all contribute to.

And something tangible that you (yes, you!) can do right now is to sign FORM’s petition. It’s horribly vague and devoid of tangible demands, but it is at least a reasonable start in terms of indicating support for the kinds of changes that Landry has suggested.

  1. Random thoughts…
    Adelaide’s reaction is bizarre – particularly considering their urban renewal issues and the *complete lack of freeways*…when I went there about 18 months ago, my reaction – WTF?

    But living in Doubleview, 3 minutes from Scarborough Beach – the old blue house on the hill was a real eyesore; it’s aforementioned technicolour replacement is not much better. I do understand the crowd reaction – “different” isn’t by default “artistic” or “cultural”. But – eye of the beholder I suppose…

    Finally, I’m no treehugger by any stretch of the imagination (even though I’ve was admittedly slow to accept the evidence for global warming, I’m still a scientist at heart and I do pay attention when the evidence is convincing.) Yet I’d be onboard for putting a whole lot of solar panels on my roof and other similarly ecofriendly measures – if I could afford to get into the property market in the first place and then have “spare” money. Begs the question – do we need a paradigm change where ecofriendly construction is the default? Is it going to require “regime change” at state and/or federal levels for it to get on the radar? (There’s another topic for your to blog on about…)

    [And yes Hourann, I do look at your blog :-) ]

  2. I think the reason Charles Landry likes the structure that replaced the Blue House isn’t that it’s good per se, but that it’s unique, and is interesting enough to prompt discussion. In other words, a far cry from the don’t-offend-anyone conservatism that you see in almost every other building in Perth.

    As for solar panels and green roofs … Landry was actually talking about city buildings. But one of his suggestions for “things we can do other than mining” was to become a centre for environmentally friendly technology, and widespread adoption of solar panels on houses would go a long way towards creating the right mindset.

    You’re entirely right that a paradigm change is needed, that we need leaders with the guts to put their money where their mouth is and bring in subsidies (or similar) for eco-friendly measures. There are a few signs that we’re headed in the right direction, such as the State Government’s interest in BASIX for new houses, or the fact that many of the new buildings going up in the CBD are 4.5 stars on the official eco-friendliness scale (BTW, this one, which is five stars, got local government approval yesterday). But to get serious about environmentally-friendly buildings (or indeed any of the issues that Landry raised) we need much more ambitious measures that go far beyond these timid steps.

    Also, Adelaide does have two roads to the south that they call freeways :-) That said, it was supposed to be a good thing that those are well clear of their city centre (think Vancouver, or most of Europe) … except that they never really took advantage of it. In fact I think it was one of Landry’s recommendations that their planning should pay more heed to the fact that they don’t have freeways cutting up their city!

    P.S. you know, those 130.95.* IPs really stand out in the logs …

  3. [...] Landry’s Verdict – report from Landry’s public lecture on his findings ( [...]

  4. [...] above is likely to continue looking like that for a while. Possibly a long while. Now I know what Charles Landry was on about when he said that Perth’s immense potential is “blocked in innumerable energy-draining [...]

  5. [...] Just when I was afraid the momentum for advancing Perth had slowed, last Thursday’s FORM event with Carol Coletta (pictured) and Charles Landry managed to draw a crowd of about 800 people even though it didn’t earn the mindshare of Landry’s previous visit. [...]

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