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.


  1. Some words of wisdom from JFK - even if he was a politician. Unfortunately you're on the money. Going back over the documents, the main justification for PSA49 appears to be reclaiming Fremantle's status as a primary centre and some dubious state government population targets (see Directions 2031) for the Perth/Peel region. In essence, the motivation is economic rather than social. It should be both.

    Cheers, Lloyd

  2. Cr Josh Wilson, Deputy Mayor28 February 2012 at 05:34

    Michael - you should have a look at the City's Economic Development Strategy which we adopted last April. It makes clear that the scheme amendment is only one part of a comprehensive (but targeted and prioritised!) strategy to achieve the economic revitalisation of Fremantle.

    By 1 July this year, for example, Freo will become the first place in WA to introduce a Business Improvement District. BIDs give 'high street' shopping precincts a capcity for greater coordinated management, and, what's more, provides the precint with both the decision making structure and resources to address the improvements that the businesses themselves identify.

    In addition to the scheme amendment and the BID, which I like to think of as the hardware and software of economic development in the City, we are also looking to catalyse development through projects that involve our own properties (e.g. Point Street and Queensgate). The redevelopment of Queensgate and Myer, with significant flow-own improvements to Kings Square is being explored through the MOU with Sirona. The formation of the new Fremantle Union is also critical to economic develoment in Freo as it gives us the forum through which we can achieve greater cooperation and buy-in from both the WA government and Fremantle Ports.
    All these things are part of the economic development strategy, and all have progressed well in the 12 months since the ED strategy was adopted.
    In response to Lloyd's comment I would simply say that he is wrong: my motivation, and the motivation of Council, with Amendment 49 is to encourage development in a relatively dead part of Freo that will deliver both increased economic vibrancy and much greater social activity/diversity/public realm amenity. We are seeking to return the human scale to the inner east of Freo, and life to the CBD! The JFK quote is pretty, but also pretty meaningless in this context. Or, if it has meaning, could just as easily be interpreted as suggesting that the obsession with height, and with keeping things as they are for the comfort and benefit of a richer, whiter, older Fremantle, is in fact the denial of our community's true nature - its enthusiasm for positive change, innovation, social and economic variety, risk, courage, and life in all its poetry and messiness.
    And if I wanted to put my tongue in my cheek, I'd say that I do think the bit about the "intelligence of our public debate and the integrity of our public officials" is apt.
    Josh Wilson

    1. Hi Josh,

      I am also for revitalising Freo's inner east end, but the idea of basing Freo's success around being categorised as a Primary Centre sits uncomfortably with me.

      Is it a sure thing that Freo will be categorised as a Primary Centre? What happens if Freo doesn't achieve this category? Will we have sacrificed our opportunity to build on Freo's point of difference by blindly (and naively) following the pack?

      A case in point is affordable housing. One way of responding to this issue could have been to guarantee an additional supply in the future. This could have been achieved through minimum residential requirements. Specific sites could have been earmarked for a residential focus. Instead, we're left with a weighted approach towards creating more retail and office space motivated by trying to be categorised as a Primary Centre. A case of letting a bureaucratic category lead Freo down the wrong path?

      Thanks for your comment.


  3. Well, whether we like it or not - don't we have to have the best of both world's: economic and community development?

    One without the other is weak ... isn't it?