Thursday, June 28, 2007

Perth - Who are we, what do we want to be?

For those of you not from Perth (or those of you who are, but have been hiding under a rock lately) there's a huge groundswell of support for changing the face of Perth from a decorative Receptionist for the Mining Industry to a vibrant, intelligent, creative community that can attract the best and brightest to call this city home.

Last night, we went to a public forum organised by Form where two international experts on creating liveable cities debated (well, agreed on) what Perth needs to change.

From :

"Perth: Great place to bring up kids, great place to retire. But what happens in between? How can we make sure Perth entices and keeps the talented ‘young and restless' demographic?"

While it was all pretty much 'yeah, tell us something we don't know - those with any get-up-and-go, get up and go!', it was great to see people in suits telling other people in suits that the people in the audience NOT in suits (hands up 25-35yo's - about half of the audience that probably numbered over 1000) were the ones who really counted in this equation. So, that was a promising sign.

It's been a problem for a long time. I left Perth in my late teens for Sydney, moved around, lived overseas and interstate for most of my 20's and 30's. I'm back now, and not being the breeding type and having a 20-something husband, realise that Perth is still pretty dull. It's a lot bigger and shinier than when I first abandoned it in the 80's, and it's come huge leaps and bounds in terms of restaurants and the arts, but it's still missing something.

As VJ's, we tour a fair bit, and the some of places we visit - Melbourne, Barcelona, Singapore - have a vibrancy that you can really feel. You walk through lanes and see video projection on a wall, pulling you into some funky little bar that feels like a friend's lounge room. Funnily enough, we expected to find that sort of vibe in San Francisco and New York, but didn't really. We had to leave Manhattan Island and go to Brooklyn to get any sense of a real grass-roots urban culture (eg through street-art and funky little bars). We've certainly had more luck 'stumbling on the fun' in Melbourne and Barcelona - and even Sevilla, where hardly anyone spoke English but we felt more at-home, welcomed and part of an urban culture than we did in New York or San Francisco. Gesticulation and our VJ showreel was all we needed to make new friends.. people who are like us.. in Spain.

We've been doing our best to try to make Perth the kind of place that people like us - "digerati" I guess, or "geek-creatives" - would find interesting enough to stay in. We've been running our Plug n Play for a year now, although since there are no video-art bars in Perth along the lines of Melbourne's Loop, Horse Bazaar etc, we have to provide everything ourselves, lug equipment and furniture to set it up each time. It's a lot of effort compared to the Melbourne one, where 5 organisers take turns to host it, and the majority of the gear is on-site at the Kent St venue. The Small Bar Licence has now been introduced in Western Australia, so technically it's now possible for arty little bars like that to spring up here, so here's hoping.

It's nice to see that some people have noticed the effort, even if they're overseas:

There are a lot of people in Perth doing these sorts of things within their own community groups. WAnimate for animation, SIGGRAPH for computer graphics, IGDA and PIGMI for games-dev, PIP for photography.

Byte Me! Festival is our attempt to bring the work being done by all these somewhat low-profile groups into a more public arena, so that more people can see all the things that ARE already going on in Perth, and hopefully get involved themselves. Perth's already got a lot more cool stuff going on than the average person would realise.

I couldn't agree more with last night's speakers Charles Landry and Carol Coletta though - we need places for these groups to meet in. It probably sounds like a small thing to people who don't live here, but we REALLY need small, funky venues to hang out in, to perform in, to pull out our laptops and play Show n Tell in.

The other big advantage of small bars is that there's less binge drinking and less violence when large crowds of people are spread apart. We often drive home from performances at 2am, and Northbridge and the club-end of the CBD are not a pretty sight. Last week, driving home late from a gig, we saw so many young, drunk, stranded girls standing on the streets in the freezing cold in their skimpy clubbing clothes - one stood in the middle of the road waving her arms to try to get (full) taxis to stop, some were sitting in the gutter trying to ring a cab on their mobile... it was very depressing to see, and I wondered how they were possibly all going to get home safely. It was a complete alternate-reality to the same streets in the daytime and early evening. I'm sure that the obvious lack of cabs is partially to blame, but also the fact that there are so few small venues and so many big ones means that it's inevitable that people just don't get looked after properly and so manage to get out-of-their-minds drunk on fizzy alco-pop.

For all that though, Perth is a beautiful city. It's booming thanks to the Mining sector, and there are a lot of very cool things happening if you know where to look. There is so much potential here.

If you're from Perth, or perhaps a Perthite who's living elsewhere... please participate in the debate to make this a better city, a city that people like you WANT to live in.

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