For the launch of the Centre for Public Impact, Lord Mayor of Perth Lisa Scaffidi spoke about running one of the world’s fastest-growing cities and making a real impact. This is an edited version of that interview.
Perth is a city on the move. Blessed with rich reserves of natural mineral and energy resources and a highly-educated workforce, the capital of Western Australia has ridden a wave of economic growth — an annual rate of 4% — at a time when other cities, and countries, were locked in the shadow of the global financial crisis. Throw in more sunshine than any other Australian city, its pristine white sand beaches and fast-increasing rates of investment, and then it’s easy to see why its population has risen so rapidly in recent years.
Lisa Scaffidi, Perth’s lord mayor since 2007, isn’t the type to claim credit for this prosperity, however. Nor is she likely to declare mission accomplished. Not for her the resting on any laurels, transformation for Scaffidi is a constant process — and something that has fuelled the strategy of her consecutive terms in office. “I think no matter how big or small any budget, careful planning allows for some ‘feel-good projects’ that without a doubt stimulate and get the community talking,” she says. “Mayors need to champion these things as they inspire and connect communities and enable people to think about their surroundings in a different way.”
The Scaffidi style“The key is to paint a clear council-endorsed vision that is achieved in specific and well-communicated stages.”
Lisa Scaffidi is Perth born and bred. Brimming with that elusive elixir of approachability, authenticity and positivity, she mixes a down-to-earth style with an eye on the bigger, long-term direction of her home town. “The key is to paint a clear council-endorsed vision that is achieved in specific and well-communicated stages,” she says. “I believe there is also room for some ‘feel-good projects’ that can be delivered quickly and visibly, as these projects give stakeholders faith you are delivering and are good for your word.”
Scaffidi, who was runner up in the 2012 World Mayor Award and the only woman in the top ten, has used her mayoralty to spearhead the drive for economic and urban development. Large-scale capital works projects have become prevalent, especially in the city’s central business district (CBD), but also throughout the city and surrounding areas. With Perth in the midst of some dramatic changes, Scaffidi — who is unashamedly pro-development — says that it’s all part of being a city of substance, one fit for regional and international comparisons.
With this in mind, the CBD’s revival is of particular importance, she says. “Its redevelopment occurred due to strong industry sector growth and resulting jobs, as well as population growth resulting from the development of large-scale key projects in the oil and gas sector, mining companies and other services like financial institutions, legal and engineering firms,” she explains. “All of these are increasingly seeking a city presence. This has driven the need for more city amenity and in turn has delivered more vitality.”
And this vitality takes many forms, she continues. “The activation of lane-ways and other spaces and the corresponding changes to small bar licences, retail shopping hours and the emergence of new restaurants and venues, has delivered an increased buzz in the city. The City of Perth has driven much of this and encouraged people to enjoy their time in the city. Our commitment to festivals and the arts has literally changed the face of Perth.”
Build it and they will come
Two standout successes are the delivery and implementation of the Perth City Link and Elizabeth Quay redevelopments, projects that will have a huge impact on Perth’s residents but which had been lying dormant on the planning table for some time. The City Link involved the creation of a new transport hub and reconnected the CBD with the Northbridge district of the city for the first time in 100 years. The project also created more than 14 hectares of new space for residential, retail, entertainment and commercial opportunities and is expected to attract billions of dollars of private investment into the local economy. The Elizabeth Quay redevelopment is another major infrastructure project, one that seeks to make better use of the city’s Swan River. Featuring new boardwalks, public spaces, hotels and much more, it is scheduled for completion in 2018.
“The City of Perth has for decades advocated for these projects to proceed to provide capacity growth and to enable greater use of our central city area,” says Scaffidi. “We wanted to do more to connect the Swan River to the city, and have better public spaces that provide a greater sense of place amongst more development, and it was this that drove the discussions and planning process. When completed the Elizabeth Quay project will be a mixed-use area of commerce and residential and a place of recreation with great amenity. Around nine million visitors a year are expected and there will be great public art, interactive attractions and wonderful restaurants and bars, as well as new corporate headquarters, five-star hotels, quality apartments and retail.”“The bigger capital projects that take longer to deliver must be explained to stakeholders via clear communication and strong messaging during the delivery phase.”
Scaffidi believes that delivering these types of larger projects requires a specific approach, more nuanced than smaller developments. “The bigger capital projects that take longer to deliver must be explained to stakeholders via clear communication and strong messaging during the delivery phase,” she says. Indeed, Scaffidi — who is equally at home on social media (she has more than 17,000 Twitter followers) as she is in one-to-one conversations or in larger groups — places huge emphasis on transparency and openness. “These communications greatly assist the community in understanding what is occurring and how their public dollars are being responsibly spent,” she points out.
Also reflecting her own upbeat personal style is her relentless focus on the positive. Glass half full? More like glass full. “The ‘feel-good projects’ or ‘feel-good factor’ is a term I came up with in 2008 for projects that, while not of critical importance, bring about good feelings in the community and to stakeholders,” she explains. “Sometimes projects such as new roads and maintenance — while crucial — are not truly seen by people. But a small art project or lighting initiative which can be easily seen makes a city feel proud and brings a lovely vibe to the community.”
Some eight years on from her election as lord mayor — previously she had served for two terms as a councillor and had worked in the hospitality industry and convention management — Scaffidi says several factors have had the biggest impact during her period in office.
“Partly, I’d like to think my energetic ‘work ethic’ has played a part but also the continued focus on achieving a clearly specified, community-endorsed vision ‘to get Perth moving’ that has been fully delivered and on budget,” she reflects. “We have achieved all projects we set out to achieve in 2007 and the city is now a vastly different place.”
There’s no doubt about that.