I received an email from a Freo resident last week who lives in the East End near Clancy’s Fish Pub and boy, it made me sad.
The person who emailed me was a relative newcomer to Freo, having recently bought in the East End and moved in with their young family. However, anti-social behaviour has meant that they now regularly resort to taking taxis home from the Cappuccino Strip at night.
“The danger/interactions we’ve faced…really limits our night time enjoyment of what we expected for city living in Freo.” The email said. “After having lived within larger cities that did not have a negative/dead zone like this I feel like we've ended up in a nice building on the forgotten side of Freo.”
The email continues. “The park near us often hosts semi-nude arguments and drunkenness that limits my ability to take our young child out on walks. It’s frustrating to say the least.”
The best place in the world?
Like all Freo-philes, I want new people to love this place, to think it’s one of the best they’ve ever visited. Faced with someone who’s never visited, I immediately start gushing about Freo’s virtues in a way that my wife says makes me sound like I’m recruiting for a cult, or an Amway salesman. But I can’t help it.
That’s why when I hear something like this, something that makes me lift up the rose-coloured glasses for a moment, it makes me really sad that things have deteriorated to this extent. I might admit, amongst the safety of fellow Freo-philes, that there are some problems we should probably do something about, but it’s a bit like pointing out flaws in a family member – it’s ok for you to do it, ok in fact for you to really go to town sometimes, but when outsiders say something and you recognise that yes, it’s true… it can be a little bit heartbreaking.
And I know what this person said is true, because I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve probably even passed that family on the odd occasions I do walk up to the eastern point of Cantonment Street, but I’ve never even nodded a hello because we’re all doing the ‘East End shuffle’ – you know, that special “I hope that the drunks don't notice me and single me out for abuse" walk.
What’s being done, and why isn’t it working?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve let Council know of specific incidents of anti-social behaviour that I’ve witnessed, and the responses I’ve received have been vague and unsatisfactory – they’ve talked about how they’re trying to solve anti-social behaviour as a whole with working groups, and how difficult it is, how it will be a long process, etc.
To me, this is a poor excuse for delay. I believe there are some problems that the City can fix, and some they can’t – and that this is one that they can.
I think it’s a disgrace that the park next to Clancy’s has basically been sacrificed to the anti-social element without the City taking some action.
I feel like our East End of town is being used as a dumping ground by the City for the type of people and behaviour they don’t want to have in the tourist precinct.
The grand plan for the East End
The City is promising that great things will happen to the East End as a result of the Economic Development Strategy, in, say, ten or fifteen years time - but I’ve been left wondering about what's going to happen in the meantime before this occurs? Until that time, one can only assume they're prepared to let the East End continue as it is now: a dangerous, unsightly place for the least, the last and the lost.
To say I'm not happy with this doesn't begin to cover my feelings on the subject. It's reprehensible that a family new to Freo should be compelled to take taxis for a distance of 200 metres because the City quite simply is ignoring its responsibility to East End residents and traders.
Surely we all deserve better than that.
What can – what must – we do?
One of the best options available to the City to stop anti-social behaviour in the park is by reclaiming the space with some basic place making strategies to get activity happening in that area again. It’s not rocket science:
- The City should look at introducing regular events into the space – off the top of my head, things like community barbeques, bouncy castles, open air movies during the summer. A lot of families already visit Clancy’s, especially on the weekends, and I’m sure they’d be the first to join in with activities in the park.
- In the medium term, the space should be improved with some better infrastructure – a community garden, some play equipment, maybe even a really great skate park, seeing as the area's already popular for that.
- The City should also be simultaneously working with the police to send a clear message that it’s not ok to get drunk and behave in an anti-social manner in that park.
- Doing something about the derelict building opposite would also be a positive. Having those kind of empty, vandalised structures in an area is one of the quickest ways to create a dead zone.
It would make my day if, in a year's time, I take my daughter for a play in the park next to Clancy's and we get chatting with another young family who live across the road - because the eastern end of Cantonment Street is no longer a place where you have to avoid meeting anyone's eye.