October 15, 2012
I take a walk by myself on William Street, Northbridge, in central Perth.
Perth is the most isolated metropolis in the world.
The nearest big city to Perth, Adelaide, is 2100 kilometres away.
You might feel alone in a stadium during a concert with thousands of people dancing next to you, or feel a sense of fullness, harmony and companionship in a bare room, sitting on a mattress with red sheets.
Things like loneliness are not purely objective – they acquire meaning according to the perception we have of them.
But is it true that we are alone?
As I walk, I reflect on this thought.
I look at what is happening around, like a careful explorer, and I notice an eclectic mix of businesses, cultures, cuisines and people that co-exist with commerce.
It is nice to note how a society formed by elements so different from each other becomes homogeneous in the end.
Buildings old and new, side by side, hold company and support each other.
Decades ago, waves of migration from all parts of the world filled Northbridge with diverse ethnic, religious and occupational activity that continues to this day.
Now, plans are afoot that will trigger a metamorphosis of a scale not seen since the migrants arrived.
Two big developments are on the cusp of transforming Northbridge: the Perth City Link, and New Northbridge.
Perth City Link will be a new destination that runs east-west across the heart of Perth’s city centre.
By burying a stretch of ugly train tracks, it will, for the first time, connect the CBD with Northbridge.
The estimated project cost is $360.32 million of which the Australian Government has agreed to kick in $236 million.
The 13.5 hectare project is bounded by the Mitchell Freeway, Roe Street, Wellington Street and Horseshoe Bridge.
City of Perth councillor Eleni Evangel says the council is seeking to make Northbridge family-friendly, and to diversify its economy.
She grew up in Northbridge and has very fond childhood memories.
“My father opened one of the first night clubs in Northbridge, the Top Hat Cabaret (now Connections night Club) and the first Kebab House, Plaka Coffee House,” Councillor Evangel says.
“The establishment of the very successful Northbridge Piazza has played an important part in that happening.”
Cr Evangel says there is a need to redevelop the area because cities are constantly changing.
“Inner-city living is becoming increasingly popular and we need to plan for that,” she says.
‘Heritage’ and ‘cultural values’ are not empty words for Northbridge.
In recent years, 70 character buildings have been retained and many of these have already been restored and sold as homes and offices.
The design of new buildings is also required to be sympathetic with the existing heritage and character buildings.
The government’s New Northbridge project will see redevelopment costs reach $300 million, $60 million of which the government will spend itself.
“Design aspects are largely up to individual developers but the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority has planning powers in relation to Perth City Link and New Northbridge,” Cr Evangel says.
“It’s exciting times in Northbridge and I’m sure people will really love the results.”
Alongside the historic building that houses the Brass Monkey hotel, I meet up with Cameron Avery.
A musician, and lead singer of local band The Growl, Avery, 24, has spent the past five years in Northbridge.
If he is not somewhere around the world touring, you can find him near William Street, or surfing at the beach.
“When I’m in Perth, I live, eat, play gigs, and work mainly in Northbridge,” Avery says.
“I love the atmosphere here.
“There is such a cultural diversity.”
He says the rebirth of Northbridge has really sped up in the past couple of years.
What surprises him is the the special bond between the businesses.
“Retailers are willing to help and support each other,” he says.
“It is wonderful to see a healthy and fair competition without any of the ‘competitors’ been damaged or cut out of the market.”
We continue to walk and I notice, across the street, an interesting building – the $91 million State Theatre Centre of Western Australia.
It is a spectacular entry point to Northbridge from the city that now sets the creative tone of William Street.
Located on the corner of Roe Street, it has a breathtaking entrance.
When night falls, the floor lights up in many colours, creating a wonderful atmosphere.
We decide to get a drink just opposite the State Theatre Centre in a small bar that has a focus on live music and entertainment.
“Perth definetely needs to be more alive,” Avery says, echoing an oft-heard lament of many young Perth people.
“I think the development might help revitalising the city and the fusion of cultures.”
By the time we finish the beer, night has fallen and the lights shine like a rainbow at the State Theatre Centre.
I say ‘bye to Avery and walk back on William Street.
I think about the day in Northbridge and the ideas I shared.
There is no doubt that cities must adapt over time to suit the changing nature of societies.
Heritage is an important development consideration.
It is what we inherit and pass on to future generations. It shapes our present identity and provides insight into the past.
After all this walk and talk I guess I have an answer to my question.
I think the unique sense of being able to come together in times of need is the true essence of being human. The individual may fail or succeed. However, the community does not die.
People should have a different view of the world and of the physical objects that characterise it.
The concept expressed by the philosopher Heraclitus in ancient Greece: “panta rei os potomos” (from the greek πάντα ῥεῖ ὡς ποταμός) means that everything flows like a river.
Everything changes and nothing remains the same.
The same memories that bind us to an environment change and acquire new meanings over time.
We must be realistic and accept that the city where we have lived for years will one day become the city of someone else.
Photos: Luca Zuccaro