Every city undergoes great change over time, of course. But you really notice it when you go away from a place for an extended period then come back. I grew up in Perth, Western Australia, after having arrived there in the late 1960s. At age 26, in 1990, I went to live in Melbourne for almost 9 years. That certainly expanded my horizons. Melbourne was bigger, more crowded, and more competitive. I returned to Perth in 1998 because I was homesick and wanted to spend more time with my family.
Perth had certainly grown over that period. But its general character seemed to be pretty much the same. It still had a relaxed, friendly vibe. And while the population had increased, it hardly seemed more crowded. While there were a few new buildings here and there, it looked pretty much like it always had.
I went to live in Sydney in 2002, then returned in 2006. The West Australian resources boom was now in full swing. This time I really noticed a difference. Perth was faster, more densely populated, and there was a noticeable increase in the number of construction projects, many of them very large.
I left for Sydney again in 2007, and returned in mid 2010. Perth had changed even more in those 3 years than in the time from 2002 to 2006.
The population had gone up considerably. There were many more people everywhere. This change was most pronounced in the CBD. Every time I walked through the Hay St or Murray St malls I was stunned at just how many people there were. While I’m more accustomed to this transformation now, in 2012, I still notice it whenever I’m in the city.
I just can’t reconcile it with my memories of growing up. While all during my childhood these areas attracted more people than any other parts of the CBD they were always far from packed. But now there is an intense feeling of concentration and activity; a bustling, busy quality. This is a good thing, of course. But it’s still disconcerting.
Not surprisingly, with so many more people living here, the roads are a lot busier, and the public transport is much more crowded. You notice this on trains in particular. While ones in Perth are a long way from being like the jam-packed carriages of Tokyo, some railway lines are regularly full to capacity at peak periods. Because of this, recently there has been a campaign to have more trains put on the tracks.
As well as these very obvious changes that you see for yourself, there are others that are invisible to most residents. There has been a big increase in violent crime, for example. Not only has the frequency of such acts gone up but they seem to have become much more savage and brutal. As well as some truly ghoulish murders, you often read about broken glass attacks in pubs, unprovoked gang beatings and even immolations.
These disturbing developments have prompted the West Australian Premier Colin Barnett to remark on them recently. And the State Government has launched a coordinated campaign involving numerous agencies to address the problem.
While these consequences of Perth’s rapid growth are unfortunate, it must be said that it is still a very pleasant place to live. The city is still much more relaxed and spacious than Sydney and Melbourne, for example. The weather is more pleasant too. That said, it is a markedly different place from the one I recall growing up in.