Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Some questions for the Bathers Beach upgrade

The other day my wife and I enjoyed a lazy afternoon hanging out at the Esplanade. We found a good bunch of grass and kicked back with our ebooks. We elso engaged in one of our favourite past times - people watching.

With the dog days of summer over, my wife even managed to coax me out of the shade and out into the revitalising sun. 

Our route home took us past the Bathers Beach upgrade and, of course, the dustbowl.

Black asphalt part of an elaborate stunt?

As I enjoy the odd fantasy novel, I have been secretly hoping that the whole project was an elaborate stunt by the City of Fremantle. Much in the same way that a child will ask for a pony to soften a parent up for a budgie, I envisioned Council surprising locals by declaring that the black asphalt and windswept dustbowl was intended to show us how not to make places welcoming, before showing us a grassy, pleasant area ideal for having a fish and chip picnic at sunset.

I clung to this fantasy because Council has talked about using placemaking to create more vibrant places. We've even had placemaker extraordinaire David Engwicht visit so many times that I hoped that his message may have been acted on in some small way by the City. But alas, there was no media release and it doesn't appear that there are any moves afoot to rectify the damage.

I'm disappointed that there doesn't appear to be any other criteria for judging the success of this project other than its ability to interpret heritage. The sunk cost fallacy (click here for my post on this topic) tells us that, having invested a lot of time, energy and money, people find it extremely hard to abandon their plans and make new ones. To me, this doesn't feel right. I don't think that the best outcome for Bathers Beach can be achieved by looking at the dustbowl and the black asphalt through rose coloured glasses.

Bathers Beach designed as a place to be looked at but not touched?

William H. Whyte once said, “It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people – what is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.” With this in mind, Project for Public Spaces, a leading non-profit placemaking organisation, has published a little article on why places fail (click here). 

The dustbowl
I reckon that it's time for some placemaking common sense to be applied to this project. For me, this article seems like a good place to start. 

Some questions to ask to avoid a failed place

Without further ado, here are some useful questions (based on this article) that Council and its officers may want to ask when the project comes to its slow but eventual conclusion.

Are there places to sit?

A welcoming place is a comfortable place. Place des Vosges in Paris which was featured recently by the consultants working on Kings Square offers a mix of simple seating solutions - grass and benches.

At the conclusion of this project, the question should not be how many people are sitting at the boardwalk - no one I've heard has disputed that it does the job - but what are the other options that are being provided by the space and are they comfortable? A follow up question could be whether or not the place offers up excuses for people to find somewhere else to linger.

It is a given that people will sit at the boardwalk. I'd hate to think that Council is relying on using the figures from this single aspect of this two million dollar project to try to argue the success of the rest.

Where are the gathering points?

According to Project for Public Spaces, a failed place is one that does not include features that people want or need. Bubba's backyard (click here for my post introducing Bubba's backyard) is a fine example of a place that combines varying elements to create different gathering points.

Believe it or not, one of the most popular gathering points at Place des Vosges is the sandpit.
The sandpit as a popular gathering point at Place des Vosges
Some more popular gathering points within this popular plaza are the water feature and statue. 

IKEA's Perth store makes use of gathering points in their eating area to reinforce that they want people to linger longer. Their gathering points are based around kids. They have set up a little play feature and a sitting area that plays movies. These gathering points attract people like lights attract moths.

In assessing this project, an appropriate question is to ask whether or not the heritage interpretation features are friendly to people of all ages, including kids? Going beyond heritage interpretation, the question should really be does this place attract kids? A follow-up question could be what else is being provided to attract people?

Are there any dysfunctional features?

For me, the black asphalt strip and the dustbowl are features that don't serve a particular use, apart from the frankly ridiculous notion that, when seen from the air, they suggest a continuation of the grid system.

Even allowing for the dubious theory that this is in some way desirable, I'll never appreciate why anyone could have ever thought that a strip of black asphalt could be anything other than dysfunctional for people at ground level. Ditto the dustbowl.

As demonstrated by the sandpit at Place Vosges, good features encourage activity to occur around them. So the question for the project is what types of activity are encouraged to occur around the area's features?

Does the place include paths that people don't want to go?

According to Project for Public Spaces, paths that lead to nowhere are useless. As the project is yet to be finalised and with the plans for the project being difficult to source from the City's website, we'll have to wait and see on this one.

At its conclusion, a good question will be whether or not any path pulls people along them in an intuitive way. A follow-up question could be whether or not they allow peole to stop and relax.

Is the place dominated by vehicles?

When my wife and I first walked past the strip of black asphalt my wife genuinely thought that it was a new carpark. Since that initial sighting, I was informed that the black asphalt is intended to represent the continuation of the West End's traditional grid road layout...wait for it...when seen from the air.

New carpark?
I find it interesting that even in a place where there will be no cars, the City has bent over backwards and spent two million dollars to create the impression of vehicles.


I'd like to see these questions asked prior to the 2012/2013 budget being finalised. Hopefully the sunken cost fallacy won't apply and some placemaking common sense will be applied.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A simple solution to the litter problem?

Following on from my post yesterday, I can confidently say that my wife's pet hate about Freo is when the bins are left to overflow. I think we can all agree that overflowing bins are not a great look, especially when there is a luxury liner in port or when it is a public holiday Monday (or a 'Litter Festival', as she now terms them).

Given this weekend's litter festival, I was interested to find out that the old overflowing bin scenario isn't restricted to Freo. I came across this cool article (click here) reporting how a Copenhagen resident who was tired of seeing overflowing bins in her city. She took matters into her own hands by implementing her own simple solution. (She has her own blog by the way, which can be found by clicking here)

Here are some photos taken from the blog post.

Overflowing bin in Copenhagen via Classic Copenhagen blog
To combat the rubbish, predominately takeaway coffee cups, her solution was to attach a test tube to the bin. This way people could place their cups in the test tubes when throwing them away. The photo below shows day 3 of the test tube experiment.

Day 3 of test tube solution via Classic Copenhagen blog

I really liked the idea and the approach. The solution targeted a specific problem in a proactive way through simple design. Unfortunately on day 6 of the experiment the local government removed the test tubes. Maybe there is an opportunity for Freo?

I'm hoping we won't have another Freo Festival of Litter this coming long weekend.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Freo Festival of Litter

According to Aafrin Kidwai, putting first things first is one of the seven habits of highly effective cities. Here is a passage from his article:

"How many cities have we visited where they are building a new grand City Hall, yet much of the garbage still isn’t being collected or the water isn’t flowing? A city’s priorities should be basic services, professionalism and quality of staff, clear metrics, a reliable ongoing base budget, and nurturing a respectful two-way conversation with its residents. All great buildings need a solid foundation."

(Kidwai's article is an interesting read. It can be viewed by clicking here.)

I couldn't agree more. 

It's great to see Kings Square activated with markets, but these types of initiatives need to be followed up with good place keeping the place clean. That's why I was disappointed by the festival of litter that seemed to be going on near Kings Square and on Cantonment Street in Freo yesterday afternoon. 

Freo Festival of Litter yesterday afternoon
These photos were all taken on our way back to our apartment from Myer. The bin in the middle is next to one of my mini Freo monuments, the Pietro Porcelli statue. 

The festival of litter is one Freo festival I'd like to see come to an end. 

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Sunk Cost Fallacy; or what Charlize Theron has to do with the Bathers Beach Upgrade

A couple of months ago, my wife persuaded me to see a movie called Young Adult at the Luna on SX. It starred Charlize Theron in one of her more arty roles (alarm bells are already ringing, aren't they?) but my wife was set on the idea and, knowing that it would do me no harm to have some bargaining power when The Avengers came out in a few weeks, I acquiesced.

However, within five minutes of the movie starting, my wife was squeezing my hand and shooting me apologetic glances because it was clear this movie was going to be excruciating. Really, really terrible. The sensible thing would obviously have been to cut our losses and leave so at least we had some of the evening left to enjoy, but did we do that? Of course not. We just sat there till the bitter end.

The experience got me wondering, what made my wife and I so determined to sit out the whole two hour running time, even though it was clear to both of us that we weren't going to enjoy ourselves? And there were lots of other things we could be doing instead? I asked my wife what she thought.

"Well, it might have gotten good."
"Did you really think that?"
"So why did we stay?"
"Well, we'd paid for it, hadn't we? It wasn't even cheap night."

And there, in a nutshell, is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The truth is that our decisions are tainted by the fact that the more we invest in something, the harder it becomes to abandon it. Having paid $30 for a movie, walking out after five minutes would feel like money down the drain. Of course, the truth is that our money was gone the minute we walked through the door - there was no getting it back. The end result of sitting through the whole movie was that instead of just wasting $30, we wasted $30 and 2 hours of our time. Staying wasn't rational, but it felt better.

So, what does this have to do with Bathers Beach, I hear you ask? (Luckily for me, even if you're getting bored at this point, the Sunk Cost Fallacy says that you'll be almost pathologically unable to abandon reading the article since you've already invested several minutes in it.)

Well, I've long been perplexed by the disconnect between the attitudes of Council and the community regarding the upgrade. The flaws in the project are so obvious, and the community criticism so vehement, that it seems like it would be an easy decision for Council to make - get rid of the dustbowl and some of the tarmac, and put in some grass.

But instead, Council's response to community discontent has been to either issue coy, watery and frankly nonsensical statements that they're going to "wait and see what it's like when it's finished", or to take a more agressive stance and claim it's community opinion that's flawed, and we plebs should show more appreciation for what is a spectacular heritage interpretation of the area, and stop wanting unreasonable things like grass to sit on, or not getting grit in our eyes. One only need read the City's media release regarding community backlash over the upgrade to get a taste of the bullish, obtuse attitude that has so far characterised their response (click here).

So what's behind Council and the City's refusal to cut their losses and fix the dustbowl and the charmless stretch of tarmac? Is it just that they don't want to admit an error? There's a famous precedent for the operation of the Sunk Cost Fallacy in the corporate sphere that's very applicable to the Bathers Beach situation.

"The sunk cost fallacy is sometimes called the Concorde fallacy when describing it as an escalation of commitment. It is a reference to the construction of the first commercial supersonic airliner. The project was predicted to be a failure early on; but everyone involved kept going. Their shared investment built a hefty psychological burden which outweighed their better judgments. After losing an incredible amount of money, effort and time, they didn’t want to just give up." 

David McRaney, The Sunk Cost Fallacy (click here for the rest of his very readable article)

The Sunk Cost Fallacy tells us that, having invested a lot of time, energy and money, Council and the City will find it extremely hard to abandon their plans and make new ones. It feels wrong. Nevermind that the money is already gone forever, and the more sensible approach would be to swallow the bitter pill and make the necessary changes. Just like my wife and I or the makers of Concorde, they're desperate to believe that despite all indications to the contrary, it just might get good.

My concern is that Council and the City will be guided more by the Sunk Cost Fallacy than by common sense when they're evaluating its success or failure and deciding what changes to make. In their desperation to prove themselves right, to avoid acknowledging they've made a bad call, they'll look at the dustbowl with rose coloured glasses (which in any case will be handy for keeping the grit out of their eyes).

Like my wife and I struggling to remember a vaguely funny moment of the movie that would make the experience seem worthwhile, they'll look at the project and say "at least the boardwalk works".

Next week I'll take a closer look at the kind of criteria I'd like to see used when Council evaluates the Bathers Beach project. In the meantime, my advice to anyone grappling with this problem would be to swallow your pride, use your noggin instead of your gut, and go see the Avengers instead.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Five ideas for Freo from...Budapest

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

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

Budapest has been a place for writers, intellectuals and the arts for centuries. Last year, I was sipping on a morning coffee outside a small local cafe when the enchanting sounds of classical music filled the street. I looked around, expecting others to be amazed like myself. But nobody seemed surprised at all, in fact they were continuing on with everyday life. I later discovered that I had been sitting on a small street beside the city opera house.

One of my first impressions of Budapest, apart from the stunning skyline, culture and inexpensive culinary delights, were the streetscapes (a decent example of my planning nerdiness). Hungary is not a rich country, yet it has invested well in designing ‘streets for people’. Walking around was easy, pleasant and interesting.What can Freo learn from Budapest?

Here are some ideas - 

Some ideas for Freo from Budapest

Consistent wall of buildings

Buildings are most important for the way they frame and enclose the spaces between them. This Budapest street has 3-5 storey facades, which intimately enclose the space and create a feeling of cosiness and protection.

The facades should also be interesting - these buildings have different colours, materials, textures and features such as sculptures, ledges, ornaments and a variety of window shapes and sizes.

Street activity

Placemaking guru, David Engwicht, reckons one of the secrets to placemaking is slowing the flow of people along a street.

“People are the life-blood of place. Density of people-activity is a key attractor to a place. Here is a secret to making a space twice as full of people — without needing to attract one extra customer. Get people to take twice as long to move through the space and that space will be twice as full of people. You can help seduce people into spending more time in your street”.

David is onto something. People attract other people.

(See more of David’s ideas here)

Variety of places to sit and linger

People need to feel welcome in a space. This street has a variety of formal and informal spots to stop, sit and linger. The street has a nice atmosphere.


Great places need greenery. This street has 3 types – street trees, garden beds and large-potted plants. The more greenery the better!

Simple consistent paving

We often over-engineer streets and spend too much money on pretty paving. This Budapest street has simple, non-descript concrete surfaces. The recent upgrade of Queen Victoria Street in Freo is a good example of keeping the paving fairly simple. The old Queen Vic now just needs more potted greenery to add some life.

That's about it for some ideas for Freo from Budapest. Although the two busy roads either side of the Danube River make walking along the river difficult, I think that this city has got many of the placemaking ingredients right.

Monday, 21 May 2012

100 posts and counting

I'm happy to report that my blog has cracked one hundred posts. The number of posts snuck up on me quite quickly.

I'd like to thank all those people who have visited or subscribed to the blog since it started. (So, thanks Mum.)

My biggest thanks and appreciation is reserved for my wife. She has edited all of my posts (and in the process saved the public from many a dodgy joke or two) and put up with me living and breathing my blog. There is no way there would be one hundred posts without my wife.

Lately, I was asked about some of my favourite posts. Here they are:

- How three singing butchers got me thinking about my campaign (click here).

- The Beach Upgrade: A Tragi-Comedy in Two Parts (click here).

- Freo under the microscope: My city is bigger than yours (click here).

- Any post about my four year old nephew Byron, formerly known as Bubba (click here, here, here, and here for a few).

- The mini Freo monument posts (click here, here, and here).

Anyhoo, thanks again. I look forward to another century of posts.

Friday, 18 May 2012

A good article on density: Some lessons for Freo?

My wife is on a roadtrip with her family, which has meant that I've been home alone enjoying some Fremantle Doctor time these past couple of days. I can see my wife shaking her head in shame as she reads this blog right about now, but I'll come clean and admit that I'm on a town planning and placemaking high from all of the various town planning and placemaking websites I've been reading.

One such article that I really enjoyed was about the limits of density. Everyone who was interested in the recent debate surrounding Scheme Amendment 49 may find this article (click here) by Richard Florida quite interesting.

Density has its advantages up to a point

The first premise of Florida's article is that density certainly has its advantages. He argues that denser cities are more productive, more innovative, and more energy efficient. I agree with him. What I found interesting is that he believes that density has its advantages only up to a point.

For Florida, density begins to become a problem when it takes life away from the streets. In this case, where it does not facilitate interactions and exchanges. Here is a passage from his article that clarifies his point:

"The key function of a city is to enable exchange, interaction, and the combination and recombination of people and ideas. When buildings become so massive that street life disappears, they can damp down and limit just this sort of interaction, creating the same isolation that is more commonly associated with sprawl. As Jane Jacobs aptly put it: "in the absence of a pedestrian scale, density can be big trouble." Skyscraper canyons of the sort that are found in many Asian mega-cities, and that are increasingly proposed in great American cities, risk becoming vertical suburbs, whose residents and occupants are less likely to engage frequently and widely with the hurly-burly of city life."

Applying this lesson to Freo in the context of Scheme Amendment 49, it is crucial that pedestrian scale is retained and that the public realm is set up so that as many interactions as possible can be made possible.

Cautious of the pendulum swinging to far in favour of density

Another interesting point from the article is that Florida is concerned that as a response to combating urban sprawl the pendulum could swing to far in favour of high-rise development.

"If the pendulum originally swung too far in the direction of sprawl over the past 50 years, the risk today is that it is swinging way too far back toward high-rise skyscrapers. "To oppose a high-rise building," he writes, "is to run the risk of being labeled a NIMBY, a dumb growth advocate, a Luddite — or worse. Buildings 20, 40, 60 even 100 stories tall are being proposed and built in low and mid-rise neighborhoods all over the world. All of these projects are justified with the explanation that if density is good, even more density is better."

I tend to agree with him on this point. Whilst twenty storey plus buildings are not being proposed for Freo, we should be careful to avoid a dogmatic approach when considering our options for redeveloping the city centre.

Good density shouldn't be all about high-rise, but maximising interactions and activity

For me, one of the best things about this article is when Florida argues that solely discussing density in the context of high-rise tends to miss the point and limits the conversation. In fact, Florida argues that cities that adopt a single-minded attitude to high-rise could risk becoming clone towns. 

"What we need are new measures of density that do not simply count how many people we can physically cram into a space but that accounts for how well the space is utilized, the kinds of interactions it facilitates. "By this measure," McMahon writes, "one block of an older neighborhood might include a community theatre, a coffee shop, an art gallery, two restaurants, a bicycle shop, 10 music rehearsal studios, a church, 20 apartments and a couple of bars, and all with much more 24/7 activity and intensity of use than one block of (much taller) office buildings on K Street [in Washington, D.C.]."

"Too many people today conflate density with height. Real interactive density can be better achieved by other means. "Yes, we do need more compact, walkable higher density communities," writes McMahon. "But no we do not need to build thousands of look-a-like glass and steel skyscrapers to accomplish the goals of smart growth or sustainable development." Neighborhoods like Georgetown in Washington, D.C., Brooklyn’s Park Slope, and the Fan in Richmond were largely built before the age of elevators and they are all dense. New Orleans’ "French Quarter has a net density of 38 units per acre, Georgetown 22 units per acre." The real issue isn’t just height and the massing of people and work, but of enabling interaction and recombination."

My take on Florida's perspective, is that we can achieve the interaction and activity he talks about by adopting a different view of our city. Freo doesn't have to choose between being a heritage town, or a tourist town, or a place predominately for offices and shopping, or just a city of residents. It can be a kick ass combination of all of the above.

I enjoyed this article and I hope anyone that reads it does as well.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Freo Quick Shot: A Creative Bureaucracy - Cheers to That!

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

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

It is generally accepted that the beer barn (large pubs that cater for extra large numbers of binge drinking patrons) approach to managing our drinking habits has helped contribute to anti-social behaviour around Perth. This isn't a great situation when we're all working towards trying to create vibrant, liveable and welcoming places.

So is this approach changing? Unfortunately I don't think so, if the response by the State Government buraucracy is anything to go by. On this issue, the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor, the Liquor Commission, the Health Department and WA Police seem to be all about harm minimisation. This tactic is often reflected in the objections to small bars by the Health Department and WA Police. In summary, the bureaucracy is effectively trying to maintain the status quo.

For me, the status quo doesn't appear to be working. Something needs to change and I feel that the most fundamental issue is to begin changing our drinking culture. A key component of this would be promoting small bars.

Small bars are intimate spaces. Compared to beer barns, they provide a different option for people looking to enjoy a relaxed drink. My wife, who has experienced her fair share of small bars, is adament that small bars are great because they are small. She maintains that it is much easier to be an idiot when you are an anonymous person in a large crowd in a beer barn. Conversely, the small space of a small bar acts as a natural regulator of people's behaviour as they are less anonymous. In this type of environment, being seen as someone who can't handle their booze isn't a good thing.

I was miffed when I read that the State Government had rejected the City of Fremantle’s request to permanently extend the relaxed liquor licensing laws, which proved a success during the world sailing championships last year. Fourteen Freo restaurants were licensed to serve alcohol without a meal during the championships and the sun kept on coming up. Kelp at the Kidogo was immensely popular and worked so well, so well that the world didn't come to an end. People actually enjoyed themselves. What a great opportunity to build on these successes.

I feel disappointed that those in the upper echelons of State Government bureaucracy seem incapable of thinking outside of the square and applying a degree of common sense to this issue. It can be assumed that they enjoy their fair share of trips to Melbourne and to Europe, so what happens to them on the return trip?

I'm equally enthused to see the City of Fremantle having a crack at getting these outdated restrictions amended. In the words of Mayor Brad Pettitt promoting a “more mature and international style of drinking” is essential in Freo (and Perth) becoming a vibrant city. To this end, my wife is happy to see that there are some small bars cropping up in and around Freo.

I firmly believe that reforming our drinking culture will require changes to our current restrictive laws. This will require the bureaucracy to start thinking more creatively. Small bars are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Some cycling lessons from the Dutch

Life long learning in Holland.
Source: Atlantic Cities via
Along with light rail, cycling was a keen topic of discussion at the Building a Better Fremantle Forum that was held about six weeks ago. The discussion largely revolved around the issue of funding hard infrastructure such as new bike lanes, something which Council has increased its focus on in the last couple of years. (For me the highlight of the evening was when Roel Loopers suggested a bit of guerilla urbanism by going ahead and painting the green lanes on the roads.)

When I think about cycling, generally two things spring to mind. Firstly, the not so nice image of my father clad in lycra on his racing bicycle commuting into work, which, seen once, cannot be unseen. The second image is of Jan Gehl describing cycling in Copenhagen as a simple way of life. Jan made the point that cycling in Copenhagen is not just the reserve of Tour de France enthusiasts. My interest in this topic was tweaked when I came across an interesting article (click here) describing why there isn't as much conflict between cyclists and motorists in Holland. Here is a quote from the article, describing the way the Dutch are taught about road rules.

"It’s not just a matter of going to the park with a parent, getting a push, and falling down a bunch of times until you can pedal on your own. Dutch children are expected to learn and follow the rules of the road, because starting in secondary school – at age 12 – they are expected to be able to ride their bikes on their own to school, sometimes as far as nine or 10 miles.

Because this independent travel for children is valued in Dutch society, education about traffic safety is something that every Dutch child receives. There's even a bicycle road test that Dutch children are required to take at age 12 in order to prove that they are responsible cycling citizens."

The salient point that the article makes is that everyone in Holland, especially motorists, understands what it means to be a cyclist. The outcome is that there doesn't appear to be the type of confrontation and tension that exists here in Perth (or in other car dominated cities) between cyclists and motorists.

Back in the day (I've noticed that I'm harking back to the good old days more and more as I trudge onwards through my thirties) I remember having to earn a 'bicycle licence'. It was a training program run at my primary school. Mum took full advantage of my new cycling skills by promptly declaring that I'd be cycling to school from now on. We did a test run together to identify the safest route, and then it was up to me. I lived to tell the tale and before long I was making use of my newly found freedom to get up to mischief (and to do mainies).

I like the Dutch approach and it would be great if we could borrow their values system. Primary schools could teach cycling safety again. I'm thinking that one way for the Federal Government to contribute could be for it to assist with funding of teaching cycling safety. (It could help with getting more cyclists on the paths/roads by looking at the tax system and making it easier for employers to benefit from providing incentives for their employees to cycle.)

I'd love to see Council support these Dutch values as well. I reckon one way could be holding our very own 'ciclovia' in Freo (for a good article on ciclovia's click here). We could follow in the footsteps of Bogota and other cities around the world. In Bogota, each Sunday and on public holidays the main streets are blocked off for the exclusive use of walkers, runners, skaters, and cyclists. Here is a photo.

Bogota ciclovia. Source: Boulder Green Streets via
Freo could do something similar. A good starting point may be 'a month of Sundays' type trial held this coming Spring. For me, this kind of event would raise the profile of walking and cycling in Freo no end. The Mayor has often expressed his desire to start up a Freo ciclovia. He has my support.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Freo as a child-friendly capital

Each Thursday my four year old nephew visits my wife for the day. Byron (now that he is at kindergarten he insists on being called Byron instead of Bubba) absolutely loves hanging out in Freo.

Playing at Bathers Beach is his favourite activity, and according to my wife has given him rich life experience in topics like:

(A)  anatomy (topless backpackers)

(B)  risk management (stinging jellyfish - his solution was to make my wife go in first), and

(C)  alternative hygiene methods (a homeless man came for a bath one day, an experience that my wife said also provided an unfortunate follow-up to the first anatomy lesson).

So apparently Notre Dame isn't the West End's only educational outlet.

I hang out with them when I have the opportunity, and although I've unfortunately missed all the classes in (A) thus far, getting a chance to see Freo from the point of view of a four year old boy has offered up some unique insights.

I think that there are some wonderful opportunities for Freo to become the child-friendly capital of Perth.


For all its proximity to the ocean, there is actually very little water in Freo beyond what exists on the fringes of our city. This was brought home to me when a water pipe burst in the High Street Mall and a hundred children and even more pigeons immediately appeared, like ants at a picnic.

The kids were splashing around, floating leaf-boats, and seeing if they could make the leak more spectacular by applying pressure to the flow (most stopped short of actual vandalism only because of a lack of tools and parental vigilance). The pigeons were equally thrilled, drinking, having baths, and probably even playing the pigeon equivalent of leaf-boats too, if only we could recognise it. They were certainly having fun.

When two council employees rocked up to cut off the water, Byron sidled up to them and started having a chat. I'm almost certain his goal in this was to observe how they turned off the water, for the express purpose of reverse-engineering another child/pigeon water festival at a later date, but whatever his motive, the unsuspecting council workers were very accomodating. They informed Byron that the reason the pigeons were going nuts was because there was actually very little fresh water around Freo.

This tweaked my interest for two reasons. Firstly, because I was immediately struck by what a transforming feature water could be to the Freo urban environment, whether in the form of a traditional fountain or the more jazzy (and, I suspect, more water wise and less susceptible to anti-social behaviour) water features one sees these days, like the misting poles at Kings Park. Secondly, because kids adore water. A good, simple water feature is more interesting to Byron than run-of-the-mill play equipment any day, and has the advantage of being appealing to grown ups too.


I never quite appreciated how playgrounds have changed (for the worse) since my childhood until Byron came along. In general, play equipment around Perth seem to be pretty bland and boring. The Kings Square play equipment is a classic example of what I am talking about. Reflecting on my childhood, playgrounds were opportunities to put my imagination to the test, to take risks and learn life lessons.

I recently came across a great little article (click here) showcasing some of the best playgrounds from around the world. Here are some of my favourites.

The Blue Whale in Plikta park, Gothenburg, Sweden. Designed by Monstrum.
Source: Flavorwire, '15 Amazing Playgrounds from all over the world'

Water Playground in Tychy, Poland. [Photos via]
Source: Flavorwire, '15 Amazing Playgrounds from all over the world'

Belleville Park play­ground, Paris, France. Designed by BASE.
Source: Flavorwire, '15 Amazing Playgrounds from all over the world'

I really like that many of these playgrounds provide kids with different ways of playing, depending on what interests them on that day.

So what are some opportunities for Freo?

Kings Square immediately springs to mind. What better way for Council to live up to its placemaking values by ensuring that kids are well and truly catered for in the heart of our city. The Esplanade has all the makings of a great playground. It would be great to see ongoing additions to this playground so that over time it can be recognised as one of Perth's best in the future.

Seeing the city through the eyes of a child

Another great opportunity for Freo is to take advantage of the natural curiousity of children. Walking around Freo with Byron, I now appreciate that kids are full of imagination and a sense of possibility. It is something that as adults we tend to forget. My favourite article that I have come across on twitter so far this year really reinforced this point for me. Here are some more pictures taken from the article, but I really do recommend that you check it out here.

Things look different from at the eye level of kids.
Source: Chris Berthelsen via  

Edges and tracks provide opportunties for kids to test themselves that we adults take for granted. Source: Cris Berthelsen via

What I really like is that are some opportunities for doing little things around the city centre that engages the imaginations of kids.


One day there will be a community vision for Fremantle. I'd like that vision to encompass Fremantle becoming the child-friendly capital of Perth.

Monday, 7 May 2012

In memory of Village Kid

This post is dedicated to Village Kid and to Bill and Norma Horn.

On Tuesday 24 April 2012, Village Kid - the pacing champion and Freo legend - died at the age of thirty one. I was lucky enough to call Village a friend during my time as a stablehand at Bill Horn's pacing stables.

Village with Bill, Tammy (his grandaughter) and Rennae (his great-granddaughter)
Photo by John Mokrzycki Source: The West
The greatness of Village Kid

Village Kid is the greatest pacer in Australian history. During the late 1980s there was no greater racehorse in the country.
He won four West Australian Pacing Cups (the equivalent of the Perth Cup), back-to-back Miracle Miles (the best 1600m race in Australia) and one Inter Dominion Championship (the Melbourne Cup of pacing). In 1987-88, Village won nineteen consecutive class races - a record that still stands today.

Village also made his mark on Freo by often reserving his best for the races held at the old Richmond Paceway in East Fremantle. Bill's achievements as a trainer were recognised when he was inducted into the Fremantle Sporting Walk of Fame in Kings Square.

Bill's plaque in the Fremantle Sporting Walk of Fame
(A lot of these plaques have chewing gum on them. I'd like to see them cleaned by the City)
Bill Horn, his trainer and part-owner, is adamant that Village's greatest moment came in the last race of his career. Village, or Willy as Bill affectionately calls him, won his last race as a thirteen year old (pacers generally race longer than thoroughbreds), setting a world record in the process. Village's last race was run for the Make a Wish charity and Bill always suspected that his champion knew that he was racing for the kids.

I was a nine year old who loved horses when I first heard of Village Kid. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I sat and watched Bill get interviewed as he prepared Village for his tilt at the Inter Dominion Championship. It was exciting when it was later reported that Village confirmed his status as a champion by winning the greatest pacing race in the southern hemisphere. Little did I know that eleven years later I would meet Village for the first time, working as Bill's rookie stablehand.

Meeting Village Kid

I rocked up to Bill's stables not knowing the back end of a horse from the front end. At the beginning I was a skinny university lad with arms like cooked spaghetti. Although I had no experience with looking after horses, Bill decided to give me a chance, probably for the entertainment value as much as anything. He certainly delights in telling the story at every available opportunity of the first time I attempted to lift a full water bucket and almost wrenched my arms from their sockets. It was worth it though - I couldn't believe I got to hang out with Village Kid, although like Bill, he put me through the ringer for my first couple of weeks.

During summer, Bill would take the horses down to Kwinana Beach for a work out and then a swim. Village Kid, at the time a sprightly twenty year old, would tag along. On my first visit to the beach with Bill, I was given the honour of riding Village Kid. (I had only ridden a horse once.)
It was probably another one of their practical jokes. Bill lead Village into the water (probably giving Village a sly wink) with me on his back. The other horses took off and Village just stayed still. He refused to budge. He stood still for the next fifteen minutes, while I sat there flapping my legs ineffectually, whining "come on Village" and looking like a prat. I'm pretty sure I heard Bill chuckling mischievously to himself.

When the horses returned from their first lap, as if on cue (I could swear I heard Bill whistle) Village took off. Riding Village, bareback, through the water was exhilarating. We went a slow steady pace and by the time we had to turn around, I was feeling pretty confident. I didn't know at the time, but it was the usual routine for the horses to canter back through the water. Without even a whinny of warning, Village turned on a five cent coin and took off. He moved through the water like a knife through butter, and I barely hung on.

My memories of Village Kid

From then on, I was in Village's good graces. He was an amazing character. We got into the routine where I'd sit outside his stable after a night on the tiles, watching the horses in the paddock and snoozing. Village would wake me up by licking my fuzzy, shaven head when he wanted some attention.

He was the only gelding that I ever saw bully the colts and stallions.

Village in his paddock
Photo by John Mokrzycki Source: The West
Each morning, as the other horses got their work out around the little track, Village would watch them with an envious look in his eye. I swear that he watched them like a coach. Even in his 20s Village looked like he could give him a run for their money. One time we were at the beach, as Village stolled down to the beach he caught the eye of another trainer. He asked Bill who his new horse was and Bill nonchalently (but with great pride) mentioned that it was Village Kid.

Village would always put the new stablehands through their paces. If he really didn't like a new stablehand, he'd stand at the far end of his paddock and refuse to budge when it was time to go back into his stable, making the stablehand walk out to fetch him. As the stablehand got close, he'd gallop down to the front of the paddock standing at the gate looking back at the stablehand. I'm proud to say that Village never pulled that trick on me.

He sure tried it on with my wife though. He was most unimpressed when I brought my then girlfriend down to the stables. Village liked his carrots like I love light rail. I'll never forget when my wife offered Village a carrot and he gave it a sniff, eyed my wife suspiciously and turned his nose up in the air like someone's aristocratic great aunt being offered a sub-par petit four. Willy eventually got over his misgivings and snuffled down some carrots, but insisted on performing a thorough nasal inspection of each carrot first.

Bill and Norma

Bill and Norma Horn deserve special mention. They were the constants in Village's life. He adored Bill and Norma. It isn't hard to know why, because as much as Village Kid was a special animal he was cared for by equally special people.

Village (as a 30 year old) with Bill
Photo by John Mokrzycki Source: The West
In my life, Bill is best described as the ultimate multi-functional plaza. He has been a mentor, a friend and a family member. Bill likes to brag that along with Village he is also a world record holder - as the world's oldest best man.

Bill (as my best man) and Norma on our wedding day
Bill was the best man at my wedding. When the time came, I could not think of anyone better. Bill did me proud on my wedding day, although he did tell the water bucket story. I was chuffed to have Norma sitting alongside Vanessa's grandmothers at the front of the ceremony.

I wish Bill and Norma all the best as they come to terms with losing such a loved member of their family.

Most of all, thanks for the memories Village.