Friday, 2 September 2011

What a 3 year old can tell us about what works in Freo

Given my wife is pregnant with our first child, kids have been occupying my thoughts a lot lately.  My experience with children has so far been pretty limited and mainly consists of getting up to noisy mischief with my three year old nephew (it's an uncle's prerogative, after all).  Byron, or 'Bubba' as he chooses to style himself, loves coming to visit us in Fremantle, and always manages to give me some kind of insight or fresh perspective on the place I live.

Bubba's number one attraction in Fremantle is not, as you might expect, the Esplanade playground or Bathers Beach, although both these places rate highly.  It's the Town Hall clock.  You can see the clock from the living room window of our apartment, and if we forget to pull the blinds down before Byron arrives, you can guarantee there's going to be an outing on the cards.

"Big clock! Big clock!" He insists at volume until we're standing underneath it, and as he can't really pronounce his 'Ls', I'll leave you to imagine the kind of looks we get as we're racing through the High Street mall (Culley's patrons, I apologise).  Once we arrive, Byron will happily stand with neck crooked for 15 minutes, entranced, only moving to check on one of the other faces.

So, heritage architecture, lovingly restored and put to good use - big thumbs up.  I'm with him on that.

If we don't then head to the aforementioned Esplanade playground (great swings and amazing 'spidey's web', apparently) or Bathers Beach, we're probably then marched off to Little Creatures.  Villa Roma is also popular, with free lemon mousse from Nunzio and a herb garden to sample if you get bored, but Little Creatures possesses The Sand Pit - the three year old's equivalent to Neil Perry's Rockpool for seeing and being seen.

Fremantle could take a leaf from Little Creatures book on place making, in all seriousness.  What a rare and wonderful thing is a place that can satisfy both a three year old, and his great-grandmother (she loved it once she turned her hearing aid off), and everyone in between?  That's the trick to really great places, if you ask me, and I'd love to see the philosophy employed in, say, the High Street mall, or Kings Square.

Speaking of Kings Square, it so far hasn't done much to impress Bubba.  The first time we went there, he was sitting in his pram being pushed along when a drunk lurched up and mumbled something unintelligible into Byron's face.

Thankfully, the drunk seemed good natured and after my initial shock I felt sorrier for him than for Byron - I didn't know three year olds were capable of such dirty looks - but since then, Bubba's decided Kings Square needs some work before he'll bother with it again.  And honestly, I'm with him on that - running the gauntlet of brawling yobs, drunks and the drug-addled isn't really my cup of tea, and I doubt I can deliver a withering stink-eye to stop someone in his tracks quite like Byron.

So what can be done to 'Bubbafie' Kings Square and Fremantle's other less successful spaces?

Dealing with anti-social behaviour is a whole other post in itself, and honestly while I wish there was a silver bullet that would solve such a complicated problem, there's not.  But some well-applied place making in trouble spots go a long way to help.

At the most basic level, we need to physically reclaim these spaces.  Put in activities that encourage people to hang around, not just pass through on their way to Myer - people of all ages and at all times of the day and night. Watch what happens when happy singles, couples and families start to outnumber the trouble-makers.  I can guarantee the problems will diminish.  That is something I want to make happen if I'm elected as a Councillor.

Take Kings Square, for example.  It would make a great outdoor theatre area - why not hire in an inflatable screen and have movie nights for the kids in summer?  I'd go, and I bet Byron would too.

I could list more of the insights Byron has given me, but I'm sure you get the picture.

Thanks, kiddo, for the ideas and the good times. I promise that when my own baby arrives I'll still make time to take you to see the "big clock" - and we'll work on that little problem you have pronouncing your 'Ls'.

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