Elizabeth Quay Opening. Photograph courtesy of Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority WA

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Elizabeth Quay Opening. Photograph courtesy of Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority WA

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Elizabeth Quay Opening. Photograph courtesy of Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority WA

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Taking Perth by its ‘shoulders’ and turning it around to face the city’s best natural asset – the magnificent Swan River – was a brave and bold tactic by the Western Australian Government.  There were plenty opposed to the plans who said it shouldn’t be done - couldn’t be done - and literally millions who have applauded the move in the best way possible by visiting and enjoying Perth’s newest destination.

Elizabeth Quay has quickly become one of Perth’s most defining landmarks.  It is a very popular backdrop for tourist selfies and news crews and a must-have event location that entices out-of-towners to the city.  It has generated a sense of pride and social attachment almost overnight; a value usually reserved for great historical or cultural landmarks. 

Bringing Perth’s business centre and river together to create a place designed for people was a major engineering and development feat.  The city had over time become divided from the river and the community’s attachment to open spaces on the riverfront meant delivery required a steady resolve.  So often the challenges outweighed the vision yet surprisingly Elizabeth Quay’s biggest success was not overcoming those challenges to build a new waterfront precinct; it is how place making redefined the profile and perceptions of Perth residents and visitors and how that shift is being measured.

The visitor experience at Elizabeth Quay today is a glistening waterfront inlet, surrounded by promenades and connected by an iconic pedestrian bridge.  A simple stroll around the quay connects visitors with a host of unique attractions from restaurants to public art, heritage stories and events that engage and inspire through innovative design and technology.  It is a place where people of diverse backgrounds, ages and interests are part of a growing social and economic hub – an exceptional example of place making as an economic catalyst and investment driver. 



Despite the natural attraction of the riverfront, Perth’s CBD had its back to the Swan River for decades.  Successive reclamation and development had disconnected the city from the river to make way for cars, parking and abundant, empty open spaces. Perth had lost its valuable ‘life-source’ connection.

In 2012, the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA) took charge of the then Perth Waterfront project with a vision to create a dynamic entertainment and leisure precinct that would be a major attraction and offered “something for everyone”.  The MRA saw potential to deliver more than an urban redevelopment project; there was an unprecedented opportunity to create a place that Perth was missing.  Including in-house place making expertise and external place making consultants amongst the technical team resulted in a number of design changes and public realm adjustments to help drive the quay’s long-term social and economic success.

“The MRA believes that by starting with the place – its environment and location, history and culture and most importantly its people – the full potential of an area can be unlocked to encourage local residents and visitors to Perth to engage with our city in new and exciting ways.”


With the key elements of the master plan determined, the MRA set about putting people at the centre of decision making in finalising the design and planning of Elizabeth Quay.  Significant effort was invested to shift the debate away from the question of development and focus on the elements of the public space that would enhance the visitor experience and create a place that people wanted to be part of. 

Market research and consultation conducted early in delivery of the project showed a predominantly negative perception and a distinct lack of engagement.  As the project progressed, the value of the project was more widely understood but people felt they lacked reason to visit and engage with the future place.  Elizabeth Quay was seen as a beautiful city asset and not a must-visit destination.

A key focus of the MRA’s contribution to the place was to build positive engagement with the local indigenous people, the Whadjuk community, who place high spiritual significance and value on the Swan River.  From a place of great adversity and opposition, the MRA developed a strong line of authentic engagement with the Whadjuk people to understand the cultural value and connection with the river and to secure input through artworks, events and activities.  It is a strong, sincere and collaborative relationship that was profoundly demonstrated through their participation in the opening events and one which continues today.


Since opening on 29 January 2016, three million people have visited Elizabeth Quay – far beyond initial expectations and our wildest aspirations.  The precinct has played host to some of the most exclusive Perth events including the global phenomenon Diner en Blanc, the Perth International Arts Festival and popular FRINGE World Festival and the upcoming Arcadia Spectacular as well as a host of sporting and community events. The precinct has hosted a wide range of local and international performers, tourists and Western Australian families and thousands of competitors in sporting events. 

It is also a passive space for recreation, part of Perth’s popular bridge to bridge exercise circuit, a lunchtime sports venue and school holiday zone.  It has provided opportunities for some of Perth’s most unique entrepreneurs to expand their businesses or launch new ventures from restaurants to river transport and tourist attractions.  All of these activities have been developed around the visitor experience of Elizabeth Quay and have been vital to winning the hearts of the community and cementing a position on Perth’s cultural and social calendar.

A number of digital technology applications - including pedestrian counts, heat mapping, visitor surveys and WiFi analytics - are employed by the MRA to collect data on event experiences and visitor information, and to ensure that community feedback is ongoing and effective.  The collaboration between the tools provides quantitative and qualitative visitor data which is used in planning future place activation and events.  These platforms show the visitor behaviours and patterns, what external factors such as weather impact visitation and the variance in people’s perceptions of the place that can be benchmarked against similar places within Perth and across Australia. 

Through ongoing research, the MRA has been able to measure success and gain important insights to enhance its place making activities. Already, the insights show Elizabeth Quay has achieved:

  • longer stays: visitors are spending much more time in the area than before and people are visiting more frequently (11% were “passing through” in 2016 compared with 34% in 2015). [1]

  • satisfaction: people enjoy what they see (satisfaction with the vibrancy, authenticity and sense of community were rated above 80% in 2016, compared with around 66% in 2015). [2]

  • inclusiveness:  research shows the quay attracting a more diverse spread of visitors, especially children/families who were significantly underrepresented in 2015.[3]

  • accessibility: benchmarks against other places around Australia show visitors rated the area significantly higher compared with other areas for mobility. [4]

  • economic benefits: data shows place making has been a catalyst for economic activity. Ferry patronage increased 300%; there’s been a 75% increase in visitors to the Bell Tower attraction; and several businesses have reported record trading days in 2016 – despite Perth’s unusually cold, wet and windy winter.

With another decade of private development planned for Elizabeth Quay, place activation is critical to underpin the confidence of private investors who will spend around $2.2 billion on hotels, restaurants, apartments, offices and shops at the quay.

While technology is expected to change over that time, the MRA is focused on keeping pace with research techniques to ensure it delivers on its promise to “offer something for everyone” at Elizabeth Quay.

This dynamic success story has only just begun.

[1] MRA Culture Counts research reports 2015 and 2016

[2] MRA Culture Counts research reports 2015 and 2016

[3] MRA Culture Counts research reports 2015 and 2016

[4] MRA Culture Counts research reports 2015 and 2016



issue 2. summer 2016