If you drive south out of Perth (Western Australia) on the Kwinana Freeway you can enjoy picturesque views of the Swan River from the road. Here the river spreads out like a lake before emptying into the Indian Ocean at Fremantle. For about ten kilometres – as Perth’s main southern artery passes the suburbs of South Perth and Como – these ten lanes of motorway are directly adjacent to the river.
While it makes a pleasant view for drivers and their passengers it is hard not to conclude that this riverfront land – prime real estate in Perth as in any city – could have been put to better use. This has been done extensively in other parts of Perth where riverside public parks are available for all to enjoy.
This section of the Kwinana Freeway was planned and then developed in the 1950s and 1960s respectively. And despite the negative effects on the riverfront, it is easy to see what the planners were thinking. Along the river, they could use a passage of undeveloped land rather than trying to purchase a corridor through the suburbs. This made the project cheaper, easier and more readily implementable. Plus, with the river on one side, the authorities halved the number of property owners who would be upset to see a motorway built next door. The river, of course, cannot complain.
To their credit, the planners did maintain access to the riverfront along this stretch with regular pedestrian bridges over the motorway. They also built pedestrian and cycle paths between the water and the motorway. But the tranquillity of the Swan River is lost here with lanes of noisy, speeding traffic just metres away. And the health benefits of walking, running or cycling here are arguably offset by vehicle emissions.
The point of highlighting this example is the questions it poses. Should motorways – and railways for that matter – be built alongside a city’s natural assets if it otherwise makes sense to do so? And more generally, how should cities weigh things like aesthetics and liveability against more operational priorities, like transport access? These are conundrums familiar to all urban planners, but we’d like to hear your own perspective. How has your city sought to balance the practical with the beautiful?