How technology might change Perth by 2050 and the way we get around


Late last year I was invited to be part of an event. The central question, “How does the built form contribute to liveable communities?” got me thinking about our city and how liveable Perth is.

For those who have travelled afar, we arrive back home and realise not much has changed. You can bet the ageless Susannah Carr and Rick Ardon will be on a billboard somewhere, the freeways will jam up in the arvo, people will curse the price of stuff and our suburbs — well, we do like to spread out a bit.

The social media hashtag #perthisok is both an expression of “we ain’t so bad” and one of “we could do better”. Perth people are comfortable to be down on Perth and then prop it up all in the one breath. It’s not uncommon to hear how much better Melbourne is, but remark how Perth is catching up with chic hidden lanes and a small-bar scene. We’re a city that tries hard and we’re not perfect but we’re also pretty great — but not too great.

It’s best to respond to a good whinge with, “what will you do about it?”

That is how I found myself at my first proper IDEAHack or Hackathon, organised by the WA Department of Communities. As the information emails came through I could see we would be examining the challenges of infill development in Perth. Words like Metronet, metrohubs and sustainability jumped out at me and I set to work planning what I would contribute on the topic of starting a start-up and “being disruptive”.

I figure if you need to plan for the future you shouldn’t look any further than today’s children. So I gazed into the eyes of my thumb-sucking two-year-old ... and tried to imagine his future.

My son will graduate from Year 12 in 2033. He’ll likely enter the workforce in 2038 and if retirement for him is at 65, it will be 2080 ... let that sink in just a little.

Today’s small kids and babies will live and work through the 2030s, 2040s, 2050s and beyond.

Every generation has had its timeline, but this one is going to be vastly different. The tech revolution dreamt of in the past is here and change is coming at exponential speed. If we can hold the sum of human knowledge in our hand via a phone (we’ve had that since 2007)… what will be next? And what will it change, challenge and affect? I don’t know about you but suddenly you can’t help but consider the essence of what makes us human.

Are our future dreams too enthralled on a faith in tech? Should we not factor in the community, the village? How do we regain that lost sense of village in a 21st-century world and can we plan for it today? When you look at our city design — it’s still a hub and spoke design with the city centre at its heart. Is this what we’ll continue with over the coming decades?

Something that does influence our Perth city design is the car. Cars have been a symbol of freedom for more than 130 years, but has this freedom come at a cost? Highways, sprawling carparks, double lock-up garages and traffic. These are not people places. They are the antithesis of a village. Yet the future of the car seems to be headed down a different road and it’s possibly one of loan vs own.

With driverless vehicles that can self-charge being a likely reality, will my two-year-old ever require a driver’s licence or need to own a car? Will he know what traffic is? Will he ever use a petrol station?

It’s possible he won’t know about any of these things. This has huge implications for cities, such as Perth, that have been designed around the car. I’m sure there will be plenty of repurposing of garage and petrol station space.

It’s often said we’re only at the start of the internet revolution. It’s going to be exciting to see what it enables it the future.

You can sense that very possibly, the future looks great. It was recently pointed out to me that many of us spend our mornings and afternoons stuck in traffic.

When we return home, we park our prized possession in a double lock-up garage, head inside and jump online. It sounds awfully lonely. We’re just a bit sealed off from the world these days and it wasn’t always like that.

So cast your imagination to 2042. My son has just docked at Perth Airport after a four-hour flight from North America. An autonomous vehicle meets him outside the carousel and he’s whisked home on a ride-sharing service with other people. Others are walking to the nearby train.

The dismantling of airport carparks has given way to a range of flexible space uses and there are no delays or queuing. Those in the car joke about how much parking used to cost while a hologram of Rick Ardon and Susannah Carr summarise the happenings around Perth. It may not look exactly like this, but you can bet one thing: it’ll be different from today.

Written by Jeremy Hurst, Co-Founder of SpacetoCo.

This article also appeared in The West Australian: