A Tale of Two Cities

May 8, 2013 § 3 Comments

Napier NZ  v  Fremantle WA

Should Napier’s Financial Recovery be Studied as a Template for Fremantle’s Future?

Visiting Napier in New Zealand is a revealing and somewhat elevating experience. It is worth comparing Napier to Fremantle.

Situated in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of North Island, Napier is as remote a place as you could wish to find. About 30 years ago the city was staring in the teeth of financial ruin and only had a couple of claims to fame. It is one of the first places in the world to see the light of a new day and the original city was wiped out by an earthquake early in 1931. Following the earthquake a firestorm incinerated those buildings left standing apart from a small group of wooden houses on the beach front. They are still there.

Apart from making headlines following the earthquake the city may have remained unnoticed to this day –  isolated in one of the most remote countries in the world.

Napier - Art Deco detail as far as they eye can see. © Roger Garwood 2013

Napier – Art Deco detail as far as the eye can see.
© Roger Garwood 2013

In the aftermath of the earthquake Napier went through a total rebuild.  Four architectural firms co-operated and redesigned the city at the height of the Art Deco era. Using a combination of inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright , Maori motifs and  influences of the Spanish Mission style the city was totally rebuilt within two years.

In 1985, with financial gloom on the horizon, Napier needed a wake up call and it came when a small group of concerned residents saw potential for tourism.  An Art Deco Trust was established to underpin what is now one of New Zealand’s major industries, tourism.The Trust had recognised the city’s architecture could become the cornerstone of  financial revival. They were right.

Napier: Riding on the back of an Art Deco Wave are Astronomic Tourist Figures

Napier is now recognised as the worlds best preserved enclave of Art Deco architecture. That may be stretching a point as Miami in Florida could possibly lay the same claim. Nevertheless the Art Deco society promoted the city as such. Tourism statistics are now astronomic. In a recent 12 months period over 75 cruise liners visited the city, each packed to the gunnels with close to 2000 visitors. In addition the city hosted 1,600,000 tourists and of those over 600,000 stayed in hotels or other accommodation for one night or more.

In a recent broadcast of  ABC Radio’s Correspondents’ Report Dominique Schwartz interviewed Napier’s mayor, Barbara Arnott, who was expounding the virtues of Napier’s architectural trove.  ” … [tourism] generated fifteen million dollars just this weekend, but this weekend is the tip of the iceberg. We have Art Deco 365 days a year. And for Napier it is our point of difference”.

Napier, promoting itself as the world's Art Deco capital, attracts in excess of two million visitors a year.  This is the entrance to the Tobacco Company office © Roger Garwood 2013

Napier, promoting itself as the world’s Art Deco capital, attracts in excess of two million visitors a year. This is the entrance to the Tobacco Company office
© Roger Garwood 2013

The mayor continued: “It’s huge, not just for Napier but for the whole of Hawke’s Bay. Our accommodation is booked out, usually a year ahead, throughout the whole of Hawke’s Bay.”

Thus, riding on the back of its architecture, Napier performed a financial miracle. The town looks prosperous.  Comfortable street furniture situated in bright and airy pedestrian malls is placed under shady trees. The malls and streets meander though an Art Deco time warp and host  high quality shops which range from clothing stores, art galleries, restaurants, antique shops and general stores. It seems that flowers are everywhere and Art Deco sunrise motifs  rise from many building. Waterfront cafes are blooming and booming but principally this is a city of people who picked up a simple  idea, planned it thoroughly and used it to propel them into a secure financial future.

And here’s the rub. Fremantle’s gold rush architecture leaves Napier for dead.

High Street,  Fremantle. The world's finest example of gold rush architecture. © Roger Garwood 2013

High Street, Fremantle. The world’s finest example of gold rush architecture.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Fremantle: Riding on the Back of a Coffee Bean

In 1985, at the time when Napier woke up to its major asset, Fremantle was cresting the wave of America’s Cup fever. The city got a coat of paint and hosted about 40,000 visitors for close to three years. And then, with little more than a puff of wind, Fremantle fell off that wave and is now experiencing what may become the worst financial downturn in the city’s history.

The old adage is ‘When the going gets tough the tough get going”. And the tough did get going in Napier.

The problems with Fremantle have been well documented. The city is looking shabby, it has problems with social behaviour and violence, its service industry is second-rate. Shops are closing, rents are higher than anywhere in the world and days when Fremantle can ride on the back of a coffee bean are rapidly coming to an end.

South Terrace. Fremantle's economy rides  on the back of a coffee bean.  © Roger Garwood 2013

South Terrace. Fremantle’s economy rides on the back of a coffee bean.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Revival urgently needs kick starting with lateral thinking. What is wrong with The Fremantle Society  encompassing the potential of tourism? The combination of gold rush architecture and Fremantle’s overall history, marketed well,  would be a giant tourist magnet. Backed by BID, The Chamber of Commerce, WA Tourism Commission and Ficra as well as the City Council, all pulling in the same direction, it would be possible to turn the city’s current economy around in a short space of time.

Any one of Fremantle’s disparate groups could become the figurehead for a tourist led recovery. The Fremantle Society previously saved the city from structural disasters. It has the ability to follow that success through by utilising in-depth knowledge of the city’s architectural ancestry. Linking Fremantle’s potential with Kalgoorlie’s tourism promoters would be  feasible. The cities share a common historical foundation in a deep-rooted gold rush history and are linked by the umbilical cord of a railway line. The romance of gold, history and architecture – the finest of its genre in the world – could be marketed with a little imagination and a few people pooling common interests.

Send in a Gunboat – or a Delegation

The city’s principal asset is iconic West End architecture. Partly a result of the Fremantle Society’s past efforts it is the world’s best preserved 19th century port. With careful management and a touch of civic pride it can attract many more visitors from overseas. At present the economy will not turn around without more people visiting and spending  money in a revitalised city.

A starting point could be to send a delegation to Napier from The Fremantle Society, Fremantle City  Council, The WA Department for Tourism, BID and The Chamber of Commerce to speak with the groups who have made tourism work so well for them.

Market Street. Iconic buildlngs on every corner. © Roger Garwood 2103

Market Street. Fremantle has iconic buildings on every corner.
© Roger Garwood 2103

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Fremantle Hospital

April 17, 2013 § 2 Comments

Ramped Up With Nowhere To Go.

My family had a virtual season ticket to Fremantle Hospital’s emergency ward. There were times when we felt we should have an apartment there, it may have been cheaper all round. We’ve had broken bones fixed; more stitches than a Chinese sweatshop could produce; cat bites treated and holes in the head patched up more than once. I doubt many people within striking distance of Freo’s hospital can be too critical of the service they have received. I can even remember the hospital being built. That would have been back in the mid 1970s and I can forgive it for being ugly with it’s overpowering neo-communist functional architecture.

A Shout Which Couldn’t Be Ignored

A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link and that link almost broke this week. In fact it may still prove to do so. A friend, I’ll call her Jane Doe for the sake of this article, had been helping my neighbour with some light decorating work, nothing at all strenuous. I was enjoying a quiet gin and tonic on my verandah when my neighbour shouted out in a voice bordering on panic: “Rog, get down here fast, really fast, quick” It was a tone which couldn’t be ignored.

I ran to her house. Jane had collapsed and was unconscious in the garden. Anne my neighbour (not her real name) quickly explained that Jane, who had been sitting chatting, had suddenly complained of a severe headache, looked at Anne, vomitted  and fallen unconscious out of the chair in a matter of a second or so (nothing to do with Anne’s looks, she doesn’t frighten people that much).  I asked Anne to call an ambulance, tell them it was very urgent. I had checked Jane’s pulse which was very strong and fast and I didn’t suspect a heart attack.

There’s no point in going into finite detail but this was obviously a life threatening situation.

The ambulance arrived within a short time and Jane had recovered some degree of consciousness but could not talk. A paramedic got to work, asked Anne and me some questions which we answered in detail with other information about how this had occurred. The medic said she felt Jane was dehydrated. Without any real medical experience between us we were not going to argue. However, we both felt that was a diagnosis which was way off beam. Jane was treated for about 30 minutes and then taken to the hospital.

Five Hour Wait For Diagnosis

This is where the system started to unravel. It was Monday 8th and by now around 6 o’clock. The ambulance was ramped for at least two hours as emergency was busy, treating cases on a priority rating. Jane was placed in a corridor for three hours and when a doctor finally diagnosed her it was to say there was a suspected aneurism – a life threatening condition. She was quickly sent to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital’s world-class neurological department and immediately  operated on to relieve pressure on the brain and drain the cranial cavity of blood. The following day she had a five hour operation to place a stent.

The current situation is there has been an additional five hour operation and Jane is still in danger of not recovering.

Keep The Emergency Ward, Keep the Hospital, No More Ramping.

My argument, and I don’t think too many people will disagree, follows. It is not meant to be critical of the ambulance service or of the paramedic. A paramedic is not necessarily a doctor and they are well trained to deal with emergency situations. However, on this occasion Anne and I didn’t feel the paramedic had listened closely enough to our description of the incident.

However, as result it is likely the ambulance was ramped and Jane, who would have been reported as being dehydrated, would not have been considered the highest level of emergency. It took five hours for the critical nature of the patient to be realised.

The question of ramping at an overcrowd hospital has to be considered as a really weak link in an otherwise excellent statewide service. In this case it could yet cost a life or severe brain damage as a result of the delay.

Thus our new state member of parliament and Fremantle’s council must ensure Fremantle’s emergency ward remains open, ramping must stop and  consideration should be given to additional training for paramedics.

Fiona Stanley Hospital will open shortly. Two emergency facilities should be retained … in fact Fremantle Hospital, the medical heart of the city, must be kept pumping.

We live in one of the wealthiest states in the world (if we’re to believe what we’re told). Thus we should be able to maintain a fine medical service for the public.

 

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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