When you think of the world’s major cities – New York, Paris, Hong Kong, London – these are cities bustling with energy and activity, with bars, restaurants, art, culture; so much to do, see and experience any day of the week and well into the night.
And yet, cities are not simply a wonderful place to live, work or visit, they play a very important economic and social function as well.
“Cities are our greatest invention. They generate wealth and improve living standards while providing the density, interaction, and networks that make us more creative and productive. They are the key social and economic organising units of our time, bringing together people, jobs, and all the inputs required for economic growth,” states Richard Florida, Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, and Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
At the beginning of the 20th century only about 14% of the world’s population lived in a city. In 2016, just over half of the world’s population lived in a city and by 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60% of people globally.
Closer to home, those proportions are even higher. According to the last Census, Australia’s capital cities are now home to two thirds (15 million) of our population. Our capital cities are getting bigger, more diverse and growing at a much faster rate than the rest of the country.
Out of the 5 largest capital cities, Perth and Melbourne are growing at the fastest rate (12%) followed by Brisbane and Sydney (10%). The national average growth rate since 2011 was 10.5%.
What we are seeing now is some of our smaller capital cities catching up to Sydney and Melbourne in the big city stakes – as major new infrastructure projects in combination with a growing population drive their evolution into vibrant cities of the world.
From “Dullsville” to world-class destination
In 2000, Lonely Planet unceremoniously named Perth “Dullsville” – a moniker few locals appreciated, but many agreed with. Perth’s CBD was a place of work that emptied in the evenings and was entirely deserted on weekends. You could forget about shopping on a Sunday, and there was no such thing as a small bar.
Since then, Perth is a city transformed. It is now home to Australasia’s best hotel (and the only Australian hotel to rank in Conde Nast Traveller’s top 50) Como The Treasury. Since liquor laws changed in 2007, over 110 small bars have popped up across the CBD. And vibrant new public spaces abound with the completion of large scale renewal and redevelopment projects such as Elizabeth Quay.
Australia’s best urban renewal project
Late last month Elizabeth Quay took out the award for Australia’s best urban renewal project. And it’s easy to see why. Since opening in 2016, this $440 million entertainment and leisure precinct has recorded over 12 million visits and attracted more than 150 events to Perth.
“The MRA literally shifted Perth city’s river-line to be closer to the CBD and encourage people to engage with the Swan River. In just under four years, a man-made inlet and 7,000sqm island were built, along with a stunning pedestrian bridge, playground, waterpark, public art, ferry terminal, boat moorings and new places to eat and drink,” said Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority CEO Sean Henriques.
“People come out of the high rise buildings to enjoy lunch by the water. They are returning to the city on the weekend, or staying longer after work to attend shows and events with their families and they are forging new connections and ways of engaging with the city and its river.”
The missing link
Another major infrastructure project which will further transform the city is Perth City Link. This project will connect Perth’s CBD with Northbridge – Perth’s premier destination for restaurants, bars, cafes and nightlife. The project effectively sinks the connecting rail line and bus station to create a 13.5 hectare space, which will include homes, shops, restaurants, offices and more.
From big country town to big city
Brisbane may once have been regarded as a ‘big country town’, but the city is well and truly coming into its own.
Last year, the inner-city suburb of Newstead was ranked as one of the three coolest suburbs to visit in Australia by Lonely Planet. Author of Lonely Planet’s Pocket Brisbane and Gold Coast guidebook, Cristian Bonetto, said Newstead has evolved into one of Brisbane’s trendiest addresses.
“Once a jumble of gasworks, timber yards and woolstores, Newstead is now a high-density powerhouse of Brisbane cool,” he wrote.
Over in South Brisbane, Fish Lane has brought the Melbourne-style of laneway bar and dining to the city – with a distinctly local twist. Fish Lane is now one of the most popular food and drink destinations in Brisbane’s inner city. The iconic laneway is also host to the annual Fish Lane Festival.
Looking ahead, with more than $10 billion of ‘once-in-a-generation’ infrastructure projects scheduled for completion by 2022, Brisbane is continuing to transform at a rapid pace.
There’s the Queen’s Wharf development – a $3 billion ‘resort’ with casino, retail, residential, hotels, bars and new public connections to South Brisbane – which is expected to open in 2022.
Howard Smith Wharves in Fortitude Valley is undergoing a $110 million revitalisation which will see a new riverside parkland along with restaurants and cafes. Full completion is expected next year.
Most recently, new plans were unveiled to transform Brisbane’s Eagle Street Pier into a new waterfront business and leisure hub, which includes a substantial 1.5 hectares of riverfront open public space. The $1.4 billion proposal is described as a ‘city-shaping development,’ with works expected to commence in 2020.
There’s a reason why we visit thriving cities around the world – and why so many people choose to live in them. They are exciting places that offer a lifestyle second-to-none – something that Perth and Brisbane are now offering in droves.
And as more big-ticket development projects complete, we will see the two cities continue to evolve into bonafide world class cities to rival Sydney and Melbourne, or perhaps even to one day surpass them.
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