It’s a lovely scaled city, where a walk on the beach is peppered with hellos, and a trip down the mainstreet results in a conversation. This means the usual ‘six degrees of separation’ contracts to just two in Albany, necessitating a higher degree of co-operation than in most cities, as you never know when you’ll be needing the assistance of a casual acquaintance.
This is why when private developers recently discovered the riches of Albany, Albanians found themselves uncomfortably dealing with the conflicts that relatively large scale development brings. Was this progress at last? Or pillaging by a wealthy few seeking to maximise their investment dollars using the assets of the city, only to move on to the next opportunity? The community wrestled with the issues, the local press celebrated with incendiary headlines and the City Council struggled, apparently hampered by the legacy of a recent amalgamation and a 20 year old planning scheme.
Pressure and apprehension
One of the first developers turned out to be of the barbarian variety, and was brought into line with the assistance of the State Administrative Tribunal at significant cost to ratepayers. But the pressure continues: imagine the community’s apprehension when the development arm of the State Government waded into the deep-end of a waterfront project with a 20 year history of conflict. Again the community has divided, split into three: those concerned about views and wanting parkland; those sick of inaction and prepared to accept pretty much anything; and those in the middle, bemused by a stream of technical documents and Government processes.
To address concerns over the height of the proposals, the developer issued a sketch showing a low-lying smudge of buildings gracing the view to the harbour, in turn countered by the ‘Parks ‘r Us’ group with a photomontage illustrating a wall of large black monoliths looming over the historic streetscape and blocking water views. The mob in the middle are hoping reality lies somewhere between.
So, we move forward and try to walk a line that is fair and sustainable. Albany has the highest job growth rate in Australia at 11.6%, has just been awarded WA tourism town of the year and Lloyds Australian Port of the Year. We will be home to a five-star international hotel (a cutting edge building with a living roof that showcases local plants and sustainability principles) and, as the only country centre hosting the Perth International Arts Festival, we are working towards building a new regional Entertainment Centre. Framing this high-end development is a swathe of residential subdivision, and therein lies the challenge. How to provide homes for families without destroying the values that attract them to the city and ending up with soulless, investment-driven residential ghettos?
Albany is not unique in facing these issues. We hope that when the excitement of the current boom fades, we will be left a rich built legacy and a vital community. It’s going to require cool heads and a tacit agreement by the community to hold the line against predatory speculators, while at the same time remaining open to change and innovation. Come visit us when you come to the Perth UDF Conference, and see where you think our future lies.