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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Loopers BID Failed

April 10, 2013 § 2 Comments

Roel Loopers Quits BID Committee

Fremantle BackChat understands that Roel Loopers, the President of the Fremantle Society has quit his position on the board of the Fremantle Business Improvement District (BID) committee. BID is an organisation which has been established to assist businesses in Fremantle and is partially  funded by ratepayers.

Loopers resignation, unlike his resignation from the presidency of the Fremantle Society, was made without fanfare. Unlike that resignation he has apparently not been asked to reconsider his BID decision.

Deadbeats And Has Beens

Concerns had been raised about Loopers suitability to be a member of the board. Shortly before he was elected to the BID board the Fremantle based photographer had referred to a group of successful professional photographers and academics, who had organised the Fremantle Portrait Prize, as: ” … a bunch of dead beats and has beens” on social media.

The Fremantle Portrait Prize, run by a group of dedicated volunteers attracted close to 700 entries from 22 countries and world-wide publicity for the city. Though it received no public funding the success of the venture was such that about $6000 was donated to charity. Loopers comments reverberated throughout the Australian photographic industry, were condemned as unethical and unprofessional and prompted one committee member to ask : “Does Roel drink?”

Shortly after Loopers made the comments he was elected to the board of the embryonic BID and questions were asked as to whether a person who had condemned members of his own profession and openly admitted his own business was struggling was a suitable candidate to advise other business owners.

Looking For Work

In a recent blog headed “Fremantle’s Ugliest Man Looking for Work” (Freo’s View 29 March 2013) Loopers intimated that his business has failed and he is looking for work. He said: ” … as my profession has not sustained me … I am keen to find additional work to create regular income”.

Over a period of several years a number people, mostly friends and colleagues,  made generous attempts to assist Loopers but that help and advice, in nearly every instance, was rejected.

Loopers is normally a generous, jovial and gregarious character, prepared to help anybody and to volunteer for many things. He has, as a result, received public recognition in the form of a citizen’s award. He also promotes himself as Fremantle’s most popular blogger using the social media as a cut and thrust, though often one sided and inaccurate, vehicle for his opinions and is frequently outraged when his debatable opinions are challenged.

However, in describing himself as the King of Uglyland he may be advertising another side of his character.

American Journalist Threatened

It has come to the attention of Fremantle BackChat  that Loopers has periodically sent emails to members of the community who have agitated him. These emails often contain personal insults and threats of legal action. In some cases [including this writer] he made accusations of bullying and threatened to ‘inform police’. When asked to produce the evidence or to post a comment or retraction to accusations on his blog he has steadfastly refused to do so.

In one instance an American journalist, who wrote an excellent promotional article about Fremantle on the internet, was threatened with legal action for copyright infringement. The journalist was accused of illegally using Loopers pictures to illustrate the Fremantle article. If there was an infringement it was possibly on the part of the people who chose the picture and posted them on the blog, not the journalist. Loopers has never proceeded with his threats against anybody and in that case did not make an apology for his erroneous accusation.

Churlish Action

In an incident involving a local entrepreneur Loopers voluntarily supplied a set of pictures, free of charge, to be used on a promotional web site. They were excellent images and did Loopers professional ability no harm at all. However it appears he had a fit of pique, presuming his work was not well enough appreciated. As a result he asked that the pictures be removed from the site and if they were not he would take action for copyright infringement. The email was impolite and his action appeared to have been churlish.

In light of these and other intemperate outbursts it seems that the choice for Loopers to be a BID member may have been poor.

Roger Garwood

DISCLOSURE: Roger Garwood is a judge for the 2013 Fremantle International Portrait Prize. He was not involved in the organisation of the 2012 event mentioned in this article.

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.

Welcome to Backchat – The Forum for Fremantle

March 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

Fremantle BackChat is designed to facilitate discussions which relate to Fremantle. Space is available to anybody who wishes to make comments and Fremantle Backchat  will allow debates to continue for as long as necessary.

Fremantle is facing changes, notably those which surround the development of the East End and the CBD. It is anticipated that Fremantle BackChat will encourage people to voice their opinions on any issue of interest.

Comments will only be published if  full names of contributors are available together with an email address. Email addresses will not be published but names will only be withheld  if contributors have valid reasons.

Information and articles can be emailed  to: editor@fremantle-online.com.au

Comments may be emailed or made in the section below each article.

Welcome to Fremantle BackChat

Roger Garwood
BackChat
T: 0418 921 735
E: editor@fremantle-online.com.au
 
March 2013

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