What a Week That Was

May 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

 It started with a public meeting and finished with a war cry : ‘We Have A Vision For Fremantle’

Two weeks ago the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association (Ficra) called a public meeting, chaired by Dick Baynam, to discuss three major issues which may affect the city’s future development: The Wardens’ Cottages in Henderson Street; the issue of a youth plaza and it’s placement on The Esplanade and issues surrounding the development of Arthur Head as an arts and heritage precinct.

The meeting was well organised and former councillor John Dowson made five-minute presentations prior to the discussion of each issue. It had the potential to show what can be achieved with public input. Inexplicably some of the 200 attendees jeered the mayor, Dr Brad Pettitt, as he attempted to clarify issues.

In hindsight Ficra must see it as an error of judgement to discuss three major issues at one meeting. The net result was that two points, those related to the cottages and Arthur Head were completely lost in what amounted to a slanging match between West End  residents and about a dozen skateboard park supporters who sometimes struggled to be heard.

While the meeting didn’t quite descend into chaos the mayor and Dick Baynam did have a heated discussion when the meeting closed.

Councillor Coggin: ‘We’re Not Mad’

The following Wednesday a general meeting of the Fremantle City Council was held and important lessons must be learnt from it. Principally Ficra and the Fremantle Society must realise if they wish to gain any traction against changes in Fremantle they have to understand the power of social media  and the necessity to deliver messages succinctly across a broad base of residents.

With little effort the supporters of a Youth Plaza were able to encourage approximately two hundred skaters into the council chamber. Skaters confirmed they had responded to a Facebook posting.  Well briefed enthusiasts, parents and teachers outlined their reasons for a skateboard park to be constructed in Fremantle, supporting the council’s preferred site of The Esplanade. The case was eloquently repeated by skaters aged anywhere between 15 and 40 who were greeted with rousing applause.

To coin a skateboarding term they effectively  ‘kick flipped’ Ficra out of the debate. The evening finished with majority vote by councillors in favour of the skateboard park to be built on The Esplanade. Councillor Dave Coggin, in a moment of Churchillian eloquence and speaking on behalf of a united council effectively concluded the debate with a rallying cry:

“We are not mad. We know exactly what we are doing. We have a vision for Fremantle as a vibrant, creative and welcoming place. For more people living, working and recreating in Fremantle. Children and Youth are a core part of that vision, which is why we are welcoming them into our hearts with the Esplanade Youth Plaza”.

No Alternative

A point made after the meeting by Councillor Andrew Sullivan was that nobody, at any point in either debate, had offered a realistic alternative to the Esplanade site.

He said:  “Objectors are telling us they’d support the Youth Plaza if it were built somewhere else but they’re being disingenuous because the only sites they mention are on the fringes of the City. Those who oppose the Esplanade would be even more outraged if we moved it to Kings Square, Pioneer Reserve or Princess May Park”.

Sullivan continued: “Modern thinking on providing facilities for young people is they need to be located in the inner city where they feel safe and included. They need to be located where there is a mix of activities for toddlers through to teens so that parents can take the whole family to the one central place. It’s not easy finding a public place large enough to accommodate these different and often competing needs.
“The Esplanade is our largest inner city park and even when 20,000 people turned up to watch John Butler there was still loads of unused space, mostly where we want to put the plaza. The proposal locates the facility in the least used and most barren section of the park.
“It proposes a lot of new landscaping including seating and shade trees – it’s not just a concrete bowl. Hence, it will have far more appeal than just for skaters. I’ll certainly be very proud when it is completed”.

Will Ficra and Fremantle Society Fightback?  An Opportunity For Strong Leadership

The back to back meetings represented a setback for Ficra. Both the Fremantle Society and Ficra, who seem to have  similar broad based interests, must develop a strong plan to carry their opposition forward. They stand against a united council who rightly believe they have control of the ball and are running with it.

Now that Roel Loopers has resigned from the Fremantle Society presidency (for the second time) there is a real opportunity for the society to elect a strong, unambiguous, leader.

Loopers finally admitted failure in his presidency of the society. In his resignation he said:
“I have had enough of ramming my head against brick walls, my input being ignored, and my time on workshops and committees being taken for granted. When elected members become arrogant and patronising and unwilling to compromise at any level, it is time to move on and stop wasting my time.”

Build on Overwhelming Vote

The only chance these organisations have of overturning or modifying plans they disagree with is to do so from within the council chamber. They certainly have the numbers to fight an effective election campaign in September but they should signal their intention to challenge for seats now, promote their policies and present credible candidates. It will be essential to accommodate social media in their planning – they have just witnessed how effective it is.

Former deputy mayor John Dowson said: “It is sad council has not put this out for public consultation”  but in agreeing that residents want to have good youth facilities in Fremantle he reiterated  the feelings of the previous night’s meeting at which an overwhelming vote against the Esplanade site was recorded.

The vote at the public meeting was close to unanimous. Several councillors who attended would attest to that but without a well organised campaign it is unlikely that challenges to current planning will be effective.

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Fremantle – A Perfect Storm of Commercial Crisis and Bad Management?

March 26, 2013 § 8 Comments

Fremantle is in the grip of a commercial and social decline. Is there a case for a ratepayers’ association to be formed to help retain the lifestyle cherished by residents and visitors alike?

Thirty  years ago the advent of the America’s Cup  accelerated a process which had been simmering, serving the needs of citizens adequately. The term ‘Fremantle lifestyle’ was coined and contrary  to popular opinion the city was thriving well before The America’s Cup arrived. When it was lost the city was left with little more than fading posters behind the counter in Gino’s to remind us of the event.

Radical Plans or Panic Stations?

In recent years Fremantle, like many societies throughout the world, has experienced a decline in retail trading which has led to the current council planning reforms to guide Fremantle into the future. Some critics say this is unplanned panic, others point to opportunism led by developers who have formed a tunnel vision of the future. The slogan is ‘sustainability’, the vehicle is ‘high rise, high density’.

For good reason citizens cherish the lifestyle offered by the city. Fremantle still embraces a reputation of being a working man’s community; artisans and academics rub shoulders with wharfies,  fishers and, we hope for a long time into the future, doctors and nurses based in an excellent (though ugly) hospital. We have also become a bona fide university locale which, in many respects, has elevated the city’s profile. Notre Dame have nurtured many historic properties but have also been criticised for isolating the community from the west end of the city.

During a recent discussion hosted by Notre Dame University a panel of students were invited to outline their vision for the future of Fremantle. Most of them would not have been born by 1983, before the America’s Cup placed Fremantle  front and centre on the world map, but interestingly all of the student panelists outlined a vision of the city which actually existed from the mid 1970s (and possibly before then) though to the late 80s.

The scholars painted a perfect picture of a variety of shops, better parking facilities, cleaner streets, less anti social behaviour. Only one student suggested high density living and none espoused high rise.

Should we look over the bridges for answers?

An observation of some other communities suggests that the current council may have got their visionary solution in the form of Scheme Amendment 49 wrong.

It would not take an hour or two to travel to the center of, say, Swanbourne and observe the variety of shops, the free parking, the trees, the proximity of a railway station, the congenial atmosphere. Nor would it take long to study Napoleon Street in Cottesloe and its adjoining thoroughfares. Angove Street’s charm seems to have been achieved with little more than a coat of paint and the imagination of local traders. Highgate and Oxford Street in Leederville also come to mind as areas which offer a Fremantle style of life.

All of these centers have several common features: Low rise buildings, a variety of retailers, readily available free parking, attractive street furniture and low density to medium density housing.

What they do not have is a plethora of booze barns or the nightmare of nightclubs and hotels which nurture excessive drinking and drug use and appear to stimulate street violence and vandalism.

Private Security

Anti social behaviour has encouraged traders in Fremantle’s High Street Mall to employ private security guards. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it has been an effective move but for a society which already employs one of the largest per capita and highest paid police forces in Australia, indeed the world, it is not a good sign.   A well managed police force is an essential core element in any community and indicative of a well managed democracy but if rumours are to be believed the Fremantle council is frustrated with the lack of action promised by the police. This frustration is shared by residents.

Ratepayers have no time for low quality or high rise development

Broadly speaking Fremantle’s population appears to have little desire for high rise, low quality development. The vast majority wish to maintain and nurture the Fremantle lifestyle. They appreciate development is essential but the proposition of high rise in the city has not been widely accepted and will most likely, given council intransigence, see a few seats changed at the next council election.

A Mantra of Dissatisfaction

There is solidarity in the council chamber but that has not translated into trust among the public. There is broad discontent among traders and ratepayers of Fremantle and a mantra of anger from the public which struggles to be heard.

Antisocial behaviour, parking issues, inefficient policing,  booze barns, night clubs, high rise office plans as well as the rebirthing of King’s Square are not seen as  beneficial to the lifestyle of the community.

What was effectively presented as a fait accompli in relation to the King’s Square redevelopment is now being opened to international competition which may produce innovative plans rather than CODA’s computer generated offering. Such a competition should have a positive outcome but will depend upon the design parameters set by council.

The current generation of artisans who gave Fremantle a cultural boost are being forced from town by high rents and, in the case of Arthur Head’s  J shed, a lack of secure tenure. High rents and rates have impacted on the ability of a variety of traders to survive. In many cases rents have doubled, tenants have walked away from leases and commercial premises have remained empty for years. Streets are deemed dirty, Fremantle is seen as scruffy, rates have increased, council staff have increased – and services have decreased.

Vibrant Lifestyle Must Be Protected

But within this decline the city still nurses a vibrant lifestyle. We have several beautiful beaches, a crystal clear ocean and a lifestyle Californians and Europeans dream about. A warm evening spent on the fabled Coffee Strip – a boulevarde of baristas – watching a parade of prized cars, a stimulating procession of high heeled  fashion and listening to the rhythm of buskers, is pure magic. Fremantle is not known as the City of Festivals without good reason. Almost every weekend has something fresh on offer. This effervescent lifestyle must be protected.

Perfect Storm of a Disaster

Is the city is rolling, towards a financial and structural abyss from which it may not recover for decades?

The mayor protested that he was misinterpreted in a newspaper article related to cooperation between the council chamber and administration but one councillor has broken ranks and said the situation is not good, that it is difficult to initiate the wishes of the elected councillors.

If the administration is not achieving the council chamber’s edicts and if the council members are turning a deaf ear to public opinion Fremantle could face the perfect storm of a social, economic and structural disaster.

Growth Industry

Action groups have become a growth industries in Fremantle. There are several established and embryonic groups spawned from the public and traders’concerns for the city’s future direction.

The Fremantle Society, once a powerful voice in the city; the Save Our Beaches Campaign worked miracles (and is being called upon to do so again); the Fremantle Inner City Residents’ Association (FICRA); the West End Traders’ Association, formed to deal with the obvious problems traders face; BID, financed by ratepayers and recently G4F (Group for Fremantle) became the new kid on the block.  These groups together with the precincts could concentrate their common interests and form an effective umbrella organisation designed to keep the council in line with residents’ aspirations.

Ratepayers Association – A  Strong Body of Opinion

Simply put the city may need a ratepayers association, an organisation to make the council chamber and the administration accountable to the public and city traders. It would not be difficult to form such a body. Existing and embryonic groups could jointly create a  team from their membership and become the most  compelling public voice the city has heard.

Non of the organisations need lose individual identities but could effectively promote mutual interests as well as their own. They could become a strong body of opinion – a focused action group to ensure the Fremantle way of life grows from strength to strength for all stakeholders.

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