Monday, 12 September 2011

What my grocer can tell us about welcoming places

I'm the cook at home, both because I enjoy it and to pre-empt having my meals cooked for me. To say my wife is bad at cooking would be an injustice - she possesses a kind of dark talent, being able to take three or four innocent ingredients and, with some malign chemistry, combine them to form the most stomach-churning dish you've ever tasted. Thankfully, she is also completely unenthusiastic about anything to do with cooking and happily surrenders the kitchen to me.

A welcoming place

As the household chef, I prefer to do my grocery shopping at Lee's in the Woolstores shopping centre. Besides the good quality fruit and vegetables, whenever my wife and I enter we always get a wave and big friendly smile from Lee and his lovely wife Maria. We're also enjoying watching their young son, Brian, grow up. Brian is now almost 3 years old and is fast becoming a real man about town on his little motorised trike. It's not unusual to see Brian rolling out of the front of the shop towards sweet freedom - before you hear something urgent said in Vietnamese and Lee or Maria appear too, quickly running after him.

I love going to this shop - like all the best places, it's friendly and memorable. My wife and I go there to shop, yes, but we also go there for a quick catch-up with people who over the years have become our friends. It got me thinking: are we doing enough to make Fremantle welcoming?

A focus on planning for people

I believe that many of Freo's public places need a little of Lee and Maria's fairy dust. I'm not convinced that Fremantle is as welcoming as it could be and I'm not entirely comfortable with the single-minded focus on economics that is characteristic of the Economic Development Strategy (and I'm still wondering why there was never any community visioning that fed into this plan?).

I'm not saying that a focus on economics is bad; I'm just saying that we need to strike the right balance. I read something on Twitter by Julian Dobson yesterday that summed it up perfectly (or click here for the full article):

"To me the problem is that our town centres have become the domain of the property owners and planners, not the public. There's a peculiar poverty of thinking in the notion that the main thing any of us should want to do in town centres is to shop.

Instead we need to re-imagine them as social spaces where we do the stuff we want to do - meet friends, listen to music, learn, entertain and be entertained by our kids, take part in civic life and much more. It is around these social purposes that markets and trading will develop and thrive, while much of our routine shopping is likely to remain in supermarkets or online."

In all of the recently published literature that I have read on Fremantle, I have felt there to be an absence of the philosophy of planning for people and places. This is particularly evident in the new Economic Development Strategy, which I was given an insight into at a presentation on Tuesday night (a big thank you to the Fremantle Inner City Residents Association for organising the event).

I'll make myself clear: I'm not satisfied with my backyard being turned into a shopping amusement park above all else, with little thought given to creating great community places. I think that the future of Fremantle is dependent on the degree to which Council can plan for a people-powered city centre. We need to get the balance right.

If you think that the future of the city centre should be focused on great public spaces as well as more retail and office space, then I'm your candidate. If you're into good kale, then I'm glad to tell you that, after listening to the people, Lee and Maria are now selling it (say hello to Brian for me). Guess who isn't cooking tonight.


  1. I really like your style of writing, Michael. This is another good piece about waht makes a community special.

    I have promoted it on my Freo's View blog again.



  2. Thanks Roel.  I'm glad that you're enjoying the blog and that you like this post - Julian Dobson's words really struck a chord with me. Take it easy!

  3. I agree. Great blog, mate. Good luck.