Saturday, 3 September 2011

Restoring Fremantle's prestige...

I'll come clean – I haven’t always lived in Freo.  My first memory of our great port city comes from the trip I made during the summer holidays with my mum, dad and my younger brother for the America's Cup, way back in 1987. At the age of ten and having grown up in a country town so modest that I was genuinely enthralled by the sight of traffic lights, Fremantle in the midst of America's Cup fever made a big impression on me.

Even to a country innocent who had to be shown how to ride an escalator, it was clear to me that Fremantle possessed a wealth of special places. Perth was exciting too, but did it have a fishing boat harbour, or a port with ships of truly magnificent proportions, lit up by vast machinery that you couldn't even guess the purpose of? Did it have a West End full of graceful, romantic old buildings that to my ten year old eyes looked like they'd been lifted from a corner of London or Paris? Did it have a jail that couldn't hold WA's most famous bush ranger? It did not, and from that instant I was smitten.

Now and Then

Twenty four years later, Fremantle still possesses all those things that made it wonderful - unfortunately, in some cases they're still covered (in places) by the same coat of paint. Sure, a few parts of Freo have been maintained or even improved during those years, but walk even a modest distance from immediate centre and the city takes on a uncared-for appearance, like a waif with a dirty face from a Victorian orphanage.

Well, it's time to spit on a hanky and get rubbing. I appreciate Council's recent efforts to turn this ship around and the economic development strategy certainly sounds like a move in the right direction - but I've already watched Fremantle slowly decline for two decades, and I don't want to wait another one before we realise any tangible benefits. I want to see its long-term goals be carried out, but how about doing this along with achieving some small wins along the way?

Leading the way in the WA

Fremantle used to be a leader in real, people-focused place making.  Most people are familiar with the now famous story of the beginnings of alfresco dining in Perth and how Fremantle led the way.  It was a story of innovation and creativity: risks were taken, red tape was cut, businesses flourished and people came in droves for their Freo macc's.  I still feel excited and proud of those achievements by Fremantle. Too bad they took place in the early eighties.

Today, I walked past a business on High Street that was advertising as per regulations its intention of building work - specifically, 'maintenance and restoration of the basement'. Seriously, what benefit does that kind of pointless red tape deliver to the community? It's certainly a different local government culture to the one that enabled WA's first alfresco dining.

My experiences of Fremantle as both a kid and an adult have got me thinking about some important questions for this election: Are we doing as much as we can do? How can we recapture that spirit of risk-taking, buzz and excitement from when Freo was truly a leader? How can we restore Fremantle's prestige?

What can we do?

One option is to innovate our way out of our current malaise.  I can't stomach the fact that since I was four, Fremantle's population has stagnated.  All the information tells us that this is a recipe for slow, but eventual decline.  Don't get me wrong - given Fremantle's proud history, its strong heritage and its unique character, I can see why people are so passionate about preserving the past.  But I believe that we must strike the right balance.  Insisting that developers build up to a standard and not down to a price in our development controls is a non-negotiable for me.  So is getting more people living and working in the city centre.

I believe that right now Fremantle is demanding invention, innovation, imagination and decision from its Council.  It's time for some new faces. If mine is one of them, and I ask for your support in making that happen, I will do my upmost to start Fremantle moving again.

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