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.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks man. I don't know how I feel about the first two though!

      Hey, did you check out the 'more sexiness in the city' article? I reckon it's pretty good.