A blog about Fremantle, urban planning and placemaking by a town planning geek interested in cooking, history, politics and sport.
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
Bathers Beach: Old Port Project
I have a lovely image in my head from about two years ago of a dad with his young child, sitting together on the grass at Bathers Beach under a tree, eating fish and chips and watching the sun set. They both looked salty from a swim and there was something about them - the air of quiet contentment and togetherness, the way the little boy rested his weight against his dad's side, happy and tired - that made me think perhaps fatherhood didn't have to be all about cuffing your offspring over the head in supermarkets and was something I could consider after all. That little grassed area for sitting is gone now, replaced by a long, hot stretch of tarry bitumen (which the last time I checked isn't known for its suitability for sitting on, least of all in summer). Next to it is what can only be described as a dustbowl: stark white, powder-fine dust of the sort you see in Westerns in which the set designer is trying to create an arid atmosphere, where life was savage and only the tough survived. I can never see it without expecting to see a tumbleweed bounce past, kicking up merry little eddies of powdery grit in its wake. No fathers snuggle up with their little kids there now. Even walking through the area is unpleasant. My nephew was recently riding his trike on the path next to it, when a gust from the sea breeze lifted a white cloud from the ground and blasted it straight into poor Bubba's face. His aunty was called in for some emergency first aid to his eyes, which were full of fine grit, before he could pedal on. Whichever genius decided on that as an appropriate surface for somewhere with coastal winds owes my nephew an apology. Just how on earth did the City of Fremantle get the Bathers Beach 'upgrade' so very wrong? On paper, it seems incredible that anyone could think they had the correct ingredients for creating a successful gathering place. There is nothing that suggests that the designers involved in this project considered what people, the actual living and breathing users, would want. No seating, no additional shade, no grass, no shower, no lighting and no bins. A grassed area has been replaced with a black slab. The feature of the place is a dustbowl. On my visits to the beach since the upgrade, I've noticed that less people are gathering in groups and that the presence of seniors and children is negligible. The vitality has dissipated. It's no wonder, when the place is now so uncomfortable and unattractive. It doesn't appear to be any connection between the community and the people who designed, planned and implemented this project. Before our very eyes, a brand of 'heritage interpretation' has been imposed onto this formerly pleasant gathering place. I don't have anything against heritage interpretation per se - I think that it is vital that we respect our heritage - but bad design is bad design, whatever title you use. What's left isn't a place for people. My wife, on seeing the development for the first time, innocently wondered if they'd turned the area into a car park for ISAF. There's talk of the upgrade being 'fixed' because of the community's reaction. We'll see, shall we? I don't like being cynical, but my faith in the competence of the CoF in placemaking has been severely shaken.