Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Some more mini Freo monuments

Here is the second installment of my mini Freo monuments.

The luxurious smells of Kakulas Sisters

There is a wonderful scene in Amelie when the eponymous heroine plunges her hand into a sack of dried grains to feel them running between her fingers. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best. While I wouldn't recommend getting caught doing this in Kakulas Sisters, the potential is there - there's definitely something Amelie-like about the bags of legumes and vast array of spices.

My wife may not be the cook in our household (see an explanation from an earlier post here) but on a Sunday afternoon she can be found strolling the aisles, taking in the sights and smells of Kakulas Sisters and contemplating various devilish concoctions in her 

Fortunately for me and my tumtum, when it comes to cooking my wife has a three second memory.

The hanging shoes of Cantonment Street

Although the decrepit Woolstores building is a blight on Freo's inner east end, it at least provides local skaters with somewhere to practice.

Unfortunately I'm old enough to remember when skateboarding first emerged on the sporting landscape. I managed to convince my father that purchasing the el-cheapo black skateboard that I had set my sights on would benefit him in more ways than he could imagine (namely getting me out of his hair on weekends). I never quite mastered the art of any skateboarding tricks and instead took to hurtling my younger brother

down our driveway at death defying speeds after watching the bobsled at the Winter Olympics.

For me, the hanging shoes of Cantonment Street represents a tribute to those skateboarders who grace this eyesore with their presence and interact with the space.

Pietro Porcelli statue in Kings Square

There's a lot to be said about statues that are at eye-level. Arguably Freo's best statue, Greg James' Pietro Porcelli statue is a true Freo mini monument. 
I love that it is interactive and that so many people have their photo taken with it.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Five reasons for visiting...Cantonment Street

Here are five reasons for visiting my street.

Clancy's Fish Pub/Princess May Park

The best thing about Cantonment Street is Clancy's. It's welcoming, homely and relaxed. An added bonus is the Princess May park out the back. Groups of parents can sit on the long wooden benches with a view to St Patrick's and watch their kiddies run free.

My wife and I have many happy memories of our visits to Clancy's. I think that one of the secrets of a truly great place is its ability to cater for the young, the old, singles and families.

Like Little Creatures, Clancy's pulls it off.


The new urban art on the decrepit Woolstores building is another reason to visit Cantonment Street.

Woolstories urban art
If you have an interest in urban art then 'Woolstories' is well worth a gander.

Some more Woolstories urban art
Skateboarders' paradise

If you're a skateboarder then the best reason for visiting Cantonment Street is the Woolstores building. The concrete ledge facing Cantonment Street provides a world class skateboarding surface.

A spot of skateboarding

Atwell Arcade

Two of Freo's best vintage clothes shops are located in this little arcade, along with a lolly shop and another Freo institution: Culley's.

Shopping at Atwell Arcade
The trees

London Plane trees are planted regularly along the street and, when they're in full bloom, provide a wonderful green canopy. These trees really do make a difference.

Canopy of trees along Cantonment Street
At the corner of Cantonment Street and Market Street there is also a beautiful old Morton Bay Fig which provides a great place to sit and people watch under the cooling shade.

People watching under the Morton Bay Fig

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Freo under the microscope: What is the ideal building height for Freo?

Dean Cracknell
Dean Cracknell is the author of this post. He is a Freo devotee interested in creating interesting, diverse places for people and is a guest contributor to The Fremantle Doctor blog.

Land has traditionally been pretty cheap in Australia (not any more I hear you groan). So our towns and cities have spread out rather than up. We are just beginning to realise that urban sprawl has severe consequences – environmental, social and economic. So the development industry and governments are shifting their gaze from the horizon to the sky.

There weren’t many tall buildings around when I was growing up in a country town. The tallest building, besides the few church spires, was a two storey pub. Low rise buildings felt like the natural order of things. So it was a bit of a shock to move down to the “big smoke” – more commonly known as Melbourne. But I grew to love the vitality, dynamism and opportunities of the big city. My ideas also changed and adapted – tall buildings now seemed normal. Perceptions of building height are dependent on time and place. What may be tall in a country town would be tiny in a big city.

Why do we need tall buildings?

There are times and places to ask silly questions (my wife would say that I ask more than my fair share). Like, why do we even need tall buildings?They are built because they are relatively useful, convenient and cost-effective. A lot of floorspace can be built on small sites in popular and expensive locations. If the free market was able to operate without compunction there would probably be lots more tall buildings in popular locations, such as close to the beach or river, in town centres and close to employment.

The market (which is basically the sum total of the choices made by many different people) naturally fuels a desire to build taller buildings in Freo because it is popular and has expensive real estate.

What is the ideal building height for Freo?

I am glad you asked (wink, wink). This is a topical issue given the debate surrounding   Scheme Amendment 49 (check out my earlier thoughts here). 

For starters, I (we) have asked the wrong question. There is no such thing as the ideal building height for a whole area. Interesting places will have variety of building types and heights and a diversity of land uses. A single building height produces boring, flat–topped boxes. I think the Council and some people in the community have resorted to simplistic guesstimates of what future building heights should be in the city centre without doing the necessary homework to support their ideas.

There is (or should be) a lot of groundwork to do before new building heights are established. The following list is not exhaustive nor supposed to read as consecutive steps.

Urban design ingredients

What do the current buildings look like? How tall are they? What about the streets? How wide are they and what are they used for? How busy are they? A good urban design rule of thumb is that building facades (or frontages) should be no taller than the width of the street. A 1:1 ratio helps enclose the street while still allowing for sunlight. This standard would mean that a 20 metre wide street could have a building facade of up to 20 metres high. Taller building elements can be set back further behind the building facade if necessary. The standard is clear, transparent and easily understood.

Local context

Where do breezes/winds come from? What about solar access for public spaces like parks? What are the important views? How can buildings be designed to work with the environmental context?

Developable sites

How big are they? Are they regular-shaped? How can they be accessed by cars and service vehicles (planners need to think about access for rubbish trucks, ambulances, removals trucks etc)?

Important landmarks

Landmarks like heritage buildings give a place a unique character. How can they be retained as landmarks and complemented by new buildings?

Desired look and feel

What kind of place should it be? What is the existing character? Does new development need to be a particular character? Why? What kind of uses should be encouraged? What are the community’s ideas?

As far as I can see, Freo currently doesn’t have a desired ‘look and feel’ for new development in the inner east end.

Development economics

It is no good setting rules if no one can afford to adhere to them.

For example, the Building Code of Australia (which is mandatory) requires lifts for buildings over 25 metres high – great idea. But lifts are very expensive to install, maintain and replace. It may not be economically feasible for a developer to construct a building of say 27 metres high, which would require a lift, if the developer is only getting a few extra metres of building height. They may instead propose a building that is 24.9 metres high, or alternatively 40 metres high to justify the expense of installing lifts.

Unfortunately, money often drives decisions, which is not to say that this is a good thing. But the budding height setter needs to be aware of such fundamental issues.

Properly engage with the community

What do locals think? Why? What about others outside the community? The outsiders of today may be the locals of tomorrow (or vice-versa). What are the issues? What does the ‘silent majority’ think?

The key is to involve people early in the process.

Develop urban design requirements

New developments should be built to a high quality and complement local character.

Urban design requirements or guidelines are critical as they specify upfront the Council’s expectations. This removes the guesswork for developers and builds confidence in the community. Design guidelines should be developed in conjunction with setting building height limits.


The list above is by no means complete. But it demonstrates that a lot of thought and hard work needs to go into setting a new planning framework for building heights. Simplistic guesstimates are not the answer.

So what do I think the “ideal” building height for Freo would be? Well, I think 2-4 storey facades along streets, with further building height of up to 9-10 storeys on some sites set well back from the street would be a good starting point.

But that’s a guesstimate, which is being simplistic isn’t it?

Dean can be followed on Twitter by checking out: @city_pragmatist

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Scheme Amendment 49: Should revitalising Freo be solely about economics?

In 1968, a politician was prepared to look beyond the standard way of measuring success in terms of deficits and GDP figures. He stuck his head out and espoused a different perspective, which I've recounted below.

"Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product...if we should judge American by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."

- Robert F. Kennedy

In the words of Julian Dobson, here was a bold, visionary kind of leadership that looked beyond deficits and GDP figures. I've been thinking about Scheme Amendment 49 and RFK's speech springs to mind for all the wrong reasons.

If you listen to the amendments' proponents, its success in revitalising Freo will be measured largely through retail and office space figures as well as achieving primary centre status for Freo (our very own version of 'deficits and GDP figures').

Doesn't this approach to measuring revitalisation surrender Freo's values through the mere accumulation of a bureaucratic category?

This approach might be good for measuring where a centre fits into a bureaucratic category but does it take into account everything that which makes living in Freo worthwhile?

That's the problem with solely focusing on economics. It isn't authentic and it takes you down a path that you might not want to go down.

On the other hand, looking at revitalising Freo from the perspective of what makes a great place to live, socialise and work changes things. It means that we don't have to worry so much about bureaucratic categories. We can focus on creating a unique place that will attract the very best talent and traders along with oodles of potential residents and visitors.

That's what some on Council don't get. Build a truly great, authentic place and they truly will come.

Scheme Amendment 49: Why the scare tactics?

For about a week now I've been mulling over Roel Loopers' summary of the debate surrounding Scheme Amendment 49 at Wednesday night's Planning Committee meeting (you can read his summary 'Huge Council Eve for Big Freo Changes' by clicking here).

It seems to me there is broad consensus that Freo's inner east end requires revitalising. I agree. I think most people do. To me, much of the area looks like a group of architects got together to see how they could surpass each other in designing extremely bad, unpleasant and ugly buildings. I can just see one of them hunched over some plans and then spinning on his 1960s office chair, with a cigarette in one hand and a scale ruler in the other exclaiming to face the rest of the office. "Jones thinks that he has a ghastly design, but wait until he cops a look at what I've come up with!"

Why is it then that much of the rhetoric we hear from Council continues to be about the necessity to do something, anything, post haste?

More importantly, why is it that whenever a legitimate criticism against Scheme Amendment 49 is raised, Council begins to wring its hands, knash its teeth and wail about how if something isn't done immediately, it spells the end for Fremantle?

For example here is how Roel summarised Councillor Sullivan's comments at the meeting:

"Councillor Andrew Sullivan put doom and gloom on the evening by claiming if Fremantle does not develop rapidly in the next five years, decline will become catastrophic. There needs to be balance between the utopia we might like Fremantle to be and reality, he said."

This kind of catastrophic hyperbole is beginning to resemble a kind of emotional blackmail, intended to silence vigorous debate about ensuring that Freo is revitalised properly. Advocating for Scheme Amendment 49 really shouldn't be solely based on scare tactics about an arbitrary end date for Freo. If that is the best they can come up with, then I'm not convinced.

The old rubric says that you wouldn't want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, and I think that this holds true for Freo. Maybe 2012 is the year that Council takes a collective breath and resolves that when it comes to revitalising Freo, quality is far and away better than quantity?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Scheme Amendment 49: Will the goal of Parisian style development go unfulfilled?

In all the recent publicity on Scheme Amendment 49, I've heard a lot about how the Mayor is keen to see Parisian style development occur in Freo.

My first glimpse of Paris literally took my breath away. I'd just lugged two suitcases up five flights of stairs from the subterranean bowels of the metro, and was bent double waiting for the black spots in front of my eyes to recede when Paris swum into view.  All I could do was stare around in rapture and whisper to myself, "my goodness", my head steaming gently as the sweat from my exertions evaporated in the chill winter air.  My ever present wife took much joy in taking these snaps to document the occasion.
I was snapped out of my stupor by a heavy suitcase being rolled over one of my toes by my wife, who was anxious to get a wriggle-on. We were staying in an apartment building just off Rue Mouffetard, which is as good a place as any to describe typical Parisian style development.

Parisian style development

In Paris, the diversity and number of small businesses is a joy to behold. This was especially true of the area surrounding Rue Mouffetard. It was a glutton's paradise of places to buy bread, pastries, cheese, meat, seafood and vegetable.

During our stay, I found out that the twenty arrondissements that make up inner city Paris are amongst the most densely populated areas of any European city. Where we were staying, it was easy to appreciate a symbiotic relationship between such a large residential population and the small businesses in the area. This also played out in that residential land uses far outweighed retail and office space.

What really struck me was that this density, vibrancy and activity was typically achieved within the parameters of six to seven storey buildings. Spare me while I show some of my photos.

At the end of Rue Mouffetard...great bakery as well
A primarily residential street running parallel to Rue Mouffetard
A Parisian boulevard near Rue Mouffetard
A more intimate building close to Rue Mouffetard
I learnt the lesson that density can be achieved without excessive height. Walking around I got the distinct impression that these six storey buildings wouldn't feel out of place in the inner east end. With their inner courtyards and aesthetic appearance the Parisian buildings certainly reflected the philosophy of building up to a standard rather than down to a price.

On our most recent trip we discovered that Parisians love their parks. In the early evening we would walk to a restored Roman arena (a medium sized park) with some wine, cheese and fresh bread and soak up the positive vibes. Teenagers would be hanging out in their different groups. One day I counted at least three different informal games of soccer being played in and around several games of boule. Young and old mixed. Office workers would sit and read the paper. Tourists dropped by to mark off the landmark on their travel guide. There was no mistaking it - this place was a community hub of sorts. Here are some more photos.

A little park at the end of Rue Mouffetard
A little park within the larger Jardin du Luxembourg
The slightly larger Place Vosges
Place Vosges again
So were the other different parks, both small and large, which are dotted everywhere in the different arrondissements of Paris. It was plain to see that high quality, user friendly and fun public spaces (be they parks, plazas or squares) went hand in hand with the height and density of inner Paris.

So where does Scheme Amendment 49 fit?

No minimum residential requirements means that when the current trend for erecting residential buildings changes, we may not get the local population that we're looking to achieve. The redevelopment of West Perth over the last thirty years shows the problems of having this type of short-sighted and one dimensional approach.

There is a symbiotic relationship between a high residential population and small business.   Whilst the amendment provides for a minimum retail component this may be a fruitless exercise if there are no guarantees (long term) of achieving the population density that will support these businesses.

If six and seven storeys are good enough for Paris, why isn't it good enough for the inner east end? When it comes to Parisian style development, the amendment clearly misses the mark.

We have no real way of quantifying whether or not proposed development facilitated by this amendment will be high quality because there aren't any design guidelines. Surely it's misguided to approve this amendment if you don't really have any idea of what you're likely to get? Yes, revitalisation is needed, but surely Freo deserves better?

There isn't a strategy for the city centre, let alone a plan for improving and investing in the public realm. In light of this, I can't see how there is any guarantee of achieving Parisian style development.

I want to see my neck of the woods get the type of development that it deserves and I'm a keen supporter of having Parisian style development where I live. For me, I'm not convinced that there is enough in Scheme Amendment 49, let alone in Council's overall approach (no strategy for the city centre) to achieve Parisian style development for the inner east end.

I (heart) Mouffetard

A couple of weeks ago I dolled myself up in my best t-shirt and headed out for a night on the town with a friend. The t-shirt is a souvenir from Paris and reads "I (heart) Mouffetard". The heart shape is nowadays looking less like a heart and more like a blob from a Rorschach test due to shrinking in the wash (my version) or me getting fatter (my wife's version), but it's still my favourite.

We wound up at Maya Restaurant and got one of their delicious goat curries. At one point my friend nipped to the bathroom and I passed the time in my usual manner - pretending I was Jason Bourne and speculating on which of the other diners could be CIA agents.

In actual fact, the couple next to me were behaving a bit strangely - I was conscious of the woman staring at me furtively before she typed something into her mobile phone and passed it across the table to her partner.

He squinted at the screen and said loudly, "What is Mouffetard?", followed by "Ow! Why'd you do that?". The woman groaned and rolled her eyes in a way that I can best describe as wifely, before glancing at me apologetically.

I couldn't blame her - like firkin or masticate, Mouffetard is one of those words that just sounds dirty. In fact, as I explained to her, it's actually the name of a bustling little street in Paris that's become famous as a great place to buy fresh, high quality produce. 
Check out some of my photos:
If Paris is my spiritual home (and it is), then Rue Mouffetard is the kitchen. I would love to see Perth get its own food street - and maybe Freo could blaze the way.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

A welcoming place (a dog friendly park in Mt Hawthorn)

Last week my wife and I visited our four year old nephew at his home in Mt Hawthorn. We played numerous games out the front of the house and then enjoyed a quick episode of Astroboy (as is probably true of all four year old boys, Bubba takes particular delight in watching Astroboy shoot his guns from his backside).

With Bubba refreshed and firing on all cylinders we visited his local park. Bubba and my wife disappeared to the playground while I hung out with Bubba's mum watching the goings on at this very popular park. 

I was compelled to take this photo when a bunch of dogs took a timeout from playing with each other (and jumping on me) to get a drink. 

What a great initiative. It may only be a simple gesture, but it is these little things that go a long way to making a place more welcoming. 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Recommended reading: More sexiness in the city

Nothing gets me hotter than listening to policy wonks talk about urban density. Say the words "intermodal transit" and I start to sweat a little. Add "walkable urbanism" and "placemaking" and I have to excuse myself for a minute. I kid -- kind of. Truth is, I get frustrated. I wish we could just say what we really mean. What are we really talking about when we talk about making Detroit a more vibrant city?

The opening lines of Claire Nelson's article on the conditions of creating vibrancy. Her introduction definitely grabbed my attention and I'm glad I kept reading as her article proved to be an interesting read. I think it provides a useful insight into what can be done to begin revitalising Freo.

Pour yourself a refreshing drink and check her article out here.

Freo Quick Shot: Some more Elizabeth's chalkboards

The High Street Mall Elizabeth's 

The Cappuccino Strip Elizabeth's

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Why women know best

Over the years I've come to accept that, when it comes to personal grooming, my wife knows best.

I suspect I'm like much of the male population in that, if left to my own devices, I would shave only as frequently as the stubble became itchy, on weekdays dress in shirts and suit pants that are too tight because I can never remember my size and can't be bothered trying things on, and on weekends live in tracksuit pants and t-shirts with toothpaste down the front. My hair would be allowed to flourish untamed as nature intended, up until the point when my chances of retaining gainful employment were called into doubt.

I particularly fear haircuts. In my teens, there were the 'wedge' haircuts Mum happily doled out on the back verandah, dress-making scissors in hand. In my twenties I submitted myself on a biannual basis to every possible horrendous permutation of 'short back and sides' the local apprentice could muster for $4.50. I even issued the 'surprise me' challenge the day before a job interview once, and returned the victim of what my wife named 'the Jerry Seinfeld'. (I was offered the job, which she said proved they must have an equal opportunity quota to fill.)

It was shortly after that point that my wife reached the end of her tether and frogmarched me to the local hairdressers on Market Street. After having a serious chat with the hairdresser, during which he would occasionally glance in my direction and shake his head, she left me to get my first haircut that necessitated payment with paper money.

It was the first time I haven't left wearing a hat, and since then I've quite enjoyed going to the hairdresser. I use the head massage as quality time to think. During my last 'brush' with a hair cut, I spent my time pondering on the types of things that are typical of successful urban spaces. This is another area where I rely on my wife for her advice. Whether we're in Freo or Melbourne, Paris, London or Bath, she picks out the best, most memorable and comfortable spots.

A successful space = the degree to which it attracts women

It turns out that when it comes to successful urban spaces, women know best. This is what William H. Whyte concluded as part of his influential 1970's study of New York's small urban places.

"The most used places also tend to have a higher than average proportion of women...Women are more discriminating than men as to where they will sit, more sensitive to annoyances, and women spend more time casing the various possibilities.

If a plaza has a markedly lower than average proportion of women, something is wrong. Where there is a higher than average proportion of women, the plaza is probably a good one and has been chosen as such."

Whyte's reasoning makes good sense. While I can linger in most places in Freo without worrying about being accosted or sitting on something sticky (you can't really ruin Target track suit pants), my wife has to be much more selective.

And wherever there are women, men will follow. We're simple like that. While women assess a space based on a whole variety of factors, men just like being around women.  It's no wonder, really - statistically speaking they smell nicer, don't get drunk and want to punch strangers, and are better at choosing hairdressers.

Perhaps Fremantle could do itself a favour and make use of Whyte's study.

Additional information

William H. Whyte's published his findings in his seminal work The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. It can be purchased by clicking here or here.  

It might be a little long at fifty eight minutes, but if you have the time and want to find out more about his study click here.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Beach Upgrade: A Tragi-Comedy in Two Parts


SETTING: an office in a local government administration building, late on a summer's day in 2012. The air feels hot and heavy and a mass of dark thunder clouds are seething ominously through the window. A man in his fifties with silver temples is seated at a large desk, reading a letter.

(Enter THWAITES, a young administrative officer, looking nervous): "Excuse me, sir?"
BOSS, sternly: "Yes, Thwaites, what is it?"
THWAITES: "It's the community, sir. They're not happy."
BOSS: "What, again? Well, you know the policy. Give them a call in nine days. They'll have simmered down by then."
THWAITES: "I don't know if that will work this time, sir. They seem awfully, er, het up."
BOSS: "What do you mean, they're 'het up'?"
THWAITES: "It's this beach upgrade, sir. They're saying they don't like it."
(Glances at BOSS's darkening expression, and swallows nervously.)  "Especially the tarmac, sir. They say it's too hot to sit on and they want the grass back instead. And they really don't like the dust bowl."
BOSS, voice rising with temper: "You know we don't use the d-b words in this building, officer!"
THWAITES: "S-sorry, sir. I mean, the heritage inspired surface next to the tarmac. Sir."

(Noise of someone running, off stage. A moment later another young officer, WILBERFORCE, bursts into the room waving a sheaf of papers.)

WILBERFORCE, jubilant: "Eureka!"
BOSS: "This had better be good, Wilberforce."
WILBERFORCE, beaming and breathless: "It's all here, sir - it's all their fault - it turns out we did consult the community about the beach upgrade."
BOSS: "Are you certain, Wilberforce? If it's true, it could be the answer we need... but what kind of consultation did we do?"
WILBERFORCE: "The usual kind, sir. We put it on our website for a month in 2004."
BOSS: "Is that all?"
WILBERFORCE, shuffling through the papers: "Nooo... it says here we also sent an email to 'key stakeholder groups' for comment."
BOSS, beginning to look excited: "And none of the comments explicitly said they wanted grass instead of tarmac?"
WILBERFORCE: "No, sir, not one."
BOSS: "Or a dust bo... heritage inspired surface?"
WILBERFORCE, smugly: "No one specifically ruled that out either, sir."
BOSS, rising from his executive chair and punching the air: "By God, Wilberforce, you've done it! That's practically a mandate!"
THWAITES, inching out of the room: "I'll go and prepare the media release, shall I sir?"
BOSS: "No, Thwaites. You're on pavement scraping duty until further notice. Report to Refuse to collect your spatula. Wilberforce, you draft the media release."
(THWAITES looks crestfallen, while WILBERFORCE glows with pride.) BOTH: "Yes, sir."
BOSS, to WILBERFORCE: "Keep up the good work, son. You're one to watch."


SETTING: a mild-mannered urban planner and occasional blogger is relaxing on a couch in a slightly messy apartment, reading on an iPad. Suddenly, his posture becomes tense. A frown wrinkles his handsome brow.

MILD-MANNERED BLOGGER: "Oh no... this media release is so full of spin it might increase the speed of the Earth's rotation. If it's not decoded immediately, it could spell the end of the world!" (He stands up, casting off his spectacles and ripping open his shirt to reveal shiny lycra. Incredibly, he looks even more handsome.) "This is a job for.... Captain Translator!"

Stage lights dim and then illuminate a new SETTING: a dashing superhero, CAPTAIN TRANSLATOR, is furiously scanning a sheaf of paper, which is projected for the audience on a screen behind him. It is a media release relating to a beach upgrade.

CAPTAIN TRANSLATOR (muttering): "This is a particularly bad case. I'll have to employ emergency procedures and zone in on the worst affected areas if I'm to finish in time and save the world. For the original text in full, visit"

In fast motion: the CAPTAIN extracts a bottle of white-out from his 'belt of translation' and a black fineliner. Gradually, the audience can see the original text disappearing and being replaced by the CAPTAIN's translation on the screen behind him.

MEDIA RELEASE: “There has...been some recent community feedback regarding certain aspects of the site works and we have listened to this feedback and adjusted some plans in response to this."

The CAPTAIN's translation: Everyone hated the tarmac and the dust bowl, and sent us some really rude emails. Usually we just ignore them, but boy were there a lot!

MEDIA RELEASE: “The heritage conservation aspect was something that was identified as the highest priority for the future of the precinct in the public engagement process carried out prior to the adoption of the master plan. Our design plans therefore reflect the views made by the public and other stakeholders in their written submissions."

The CAPTAIN's translation: It's all your fault, you wallies. Especially the dust bowl and the tarmac. We asked you what you wanted, and you said you wanted heritage. Everyone knows it was really, really dusty in the olden days. And there was no fancy grass, oh no - just dust, and sometimes tarmac.

MEDIA RELEASE: Stage two works commenced on 30 January following the ISAF Sailing World Championships and Fremantle’s Australia Day celebrations, which were focused on Bathers Beach.

The CAPTAIN's translation: We haven't finished the upgrade yet. Maybe you won't hate it quite as much when it's finished? At least stop sending us the emails until it's done.

MEDIA RELEASE: The project is proceeding in accordance with the contractual obligations already in place involving the architect and builder selected and commissioned through a public tendering process.

The CAPTAIN's translation: Some of those whiney emails you sent us kind of made sense. We tried to reason with the builder and asked if we could make a few changes, but he sent us away with a flea in our ear. You know what builders are like.

MEDIA RELEASE: The City has also looked into budget and design implications of replacing more of the hard surface in front of the Kidogo Art Institute with grass and trees (as opposed to the original plan which involved immediately sealing the surface to stop dust and extending with grass and trees later).  The City is currently assessing the cost of additional trees, but it is likely that at least three additional trees will be planted in the grassed area.

The CAPTAIN's translation: You guys have been such cry-babies about the whole dust bowl thing that we looked into putting in some grass and trees to shut you up. Unfortunately, we've already blown our budget and can only afford three extra trees. Maybe four. But probably three.

MEDIA RELEASE: Council, at its 27 April 2004 meeting, resolved to release the draft plan for four weeks community comment, with a report on submissions to be brought back to council for consideration before the plan was presented for final adoption.

The draft concept plan and the report were placed on the City’s website and on the display board in the town hall administration centre’s arcade in accordance with the City’s community consultation policy. Copies of the plan were also sent to all precincts and major stakeholders.

The CAPTAIN's translation: Waaay back in 2004 (that's right, almost eight years ago!) we stuck a draft plan on a single notice board and on the website and sent some emails around, which is the bare minimum we can do without getting into trouble. We didn't go down to the site and consult with the actual users because it's a long walk, plus most of those people are backpackers and can't vote.

Not one of the responses we got back said no to the dust bowl.

So suck it up, cupcakes - we told you it was all your fault!

The CAPTAIN mops his manly brow and sits back in his chair. "Phew, that was a close call! At least the world is safe again...for now."

DISCLAIMER: As my wife will attest, I'm not normally inclined to flippancy when it comes to placemaking. However, I've just had a look at the City of Fremantle's update on the Old Port Project at Bathers Beach, and there's something about officialese that never fails to bring out my inner ten year old. Obviously the characters and the scene depicted are fictional.