The Second Act of Lisa Scaffidi

One month after winning a second term as Perth’s Lord Mayor, Lisa Scaffidi is back at work as the city stands at the precipice of two major building projects, the sinking of the railway line between the city and Northbridge and the redevelopment of the city’s foreshore.

From her office in Council House overlooking the Perth water front, the Lord Mayor told OUTinPerth the underlying thinking behind the city’s redevelopment, how the city’s support of the arts is linked to its urban development and how ‘Team Lisa’ helped her keep her job as Perth’s Lord Mayor.

Scaffidi admits that the recent election campaign was a gruelling process to go through, describing it as a tough time filled with pressure,

‘It’s a tough time having to campaign for the job and do the job, it’s quite a lot of work as opposed to just campaigning for it and not being in it at the time.

During the campaign many supporters from the GLBT community showed their support for the Lord Mayor by changing their Facebook profile pictures to read ‘Team Lisa’, and Scaffidi acknowledged that this grassroots support was a great motivator and inspiration for her during the election period.

Through Facebook the Lord Mayor has certainly shown she is accessible to the people, having amassed the maximum allowance of 5000 friends. The Lord Mayor, who is known to personally answer all emails within 24 hours, is just as responsive to the digitally savvy and generally younger social networking members of the community. Scaffidi says is it from the younger members of the community that she learned the most during the election campaign.

‘I actually felt a lot of young people supporting me, and that was a compliment. I understand what a lot of young people want for the city, and I think that drives me.’

While many people see the Lord Mayor at social functions, opening events and giving speeches, Scaffidi is quick to point out that this is a small part of her job and shares that the hardest part of being Lord Mayor is maintaining the energy level you need on a daily basis.

‘No two days are the same… they are typically very long days because there are morning breakfasts and a lot of evening events. People see me out and about and they think “all she does is go to cocktail parties…” They forget there is a hell of a lot of paperwork and actual work back in the office.’

Back in 2007, when Scaffidi first ran for the top job, she promoted the Northbridge link and the redevelopment of the foreshore as two critical projects for the city’s development, now five years later work is about to begin on both. Scaffidi explains the underlying philosophy driving both major projects.

‘It’s about capacity building for the city, the city is experiencing such demand from so many companies globally wanting to have a presence in the capital city on the back of the insatiable demand for the resources in the north west. Even though it’s mainly driven by the oil and gas and energy sector there are lots of spin-off businesses that then benefit; like the legal services, the financial services and then all the bars and restaurants.’

Sinking the railway line and allowing traffic and pedestrians to easily move from Northbridge into the city centre is an idea that has been contemplated by successive governments for decades. Scaffidi highlights that these two projects will allow our city to develop horizontally and remove the barrier between the city and Northbridge precincts.

‘Many people have criticised Perth as being like a big country town with a strong east-west alignment of the main street in St George’s Terrace; but now we have this cross axis that will vertically cut into that east-west alignment and over time we will have more density and central focus.’

Aside from the city’s rapid growth on the back of the mining and energy industries the Lord Mayor also believes in strong support for the arts community. At a time when the state government has been reducing funding to the arts, the support of the City of Perth has become more important to many arts companies. The Lord Mayor notes that the central area of the city should be thought of a ‘central activity area’ rather than ‘central business district’ as cultural events are essential to the city’s vitality.

Scaffidi highlights that ensuring that major arts organisations like the WA Ballet, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and the WA Opera include free performances in their programs is also a way the council’s funding links the arts and urban development.

‘We’re very keen to have active engagement in that space, we’re major sponsors of PIAF, the Pride Parade, festivals like Awesome Arts and many others that occur throughout the year. That’s our way of enhancing the vitality of the city and also encouraging more visitations to the city that has spin-off benefits when people kick on in restaurants after their attendance.’

One event the Lord Mayor was unable to attend this year was the city’s Pride festivities – while the floats paraded through Northbridge the Lord Mayor was hard at work speaking at a medical conference in Perth’s sister city of Kagoshima in Japan. ‘It’s the first one I’ve missed’, noted a genuinely disappointed Lord Mayor.

Graeme Watson