In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, architecture in mining settlements often acted as a measure of wealth, as if to arouse confidence and longevity in places with an infamously brief lifespan. Arguably, recent planning for upgraded town centres in the Pilbara region of Western Australia has similarly employed urban form to provide reassurance to current and potential future residents of these settlements. Using Karratha, the largest urban centre in the Pilbara, as a case study, this paper explores the ways in which urban form has been used to further a narrative of longevity through references to traditional cities characterized by urban density, spatial delineation and economic diversification. While only six years has elapsed since the launch of a plan to guide Karratha’s transformation from a town into a city, the current mining downturn highlights the limits of urban design interventions in relation to broader issues facing the mining industry. The paper concludes by pointing to the implications of such urban design efforts for the development of cities in Northern Australia.