Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Three lessons for Freo from my parents' trip to France

Mum and Dad
Mum and Dad have recently returned from three months of gallivanting around France. They visited Paris, spent time hanging out in Brittany and then journeyed down to the Pyrennes before subjecting themselves to the Tour de France crowds up north. I'm chuffed to report that they had a great time, so much so that I often wondered whether or not they'd return home.

Although they enjoyed themselves, I didn't get the impression that they wholeheartedly converted to the French style of cooking. My mum's approach to food is traffic engineer-esque (very risk adverse) and, largely due to a morbid fear of accidently eating duck, she lived on crepes (breakfast and lunch) and omelettes (dinner) for the majority of her trip.

My dad is one step up from a traffic engineer in gastronomic matters. He was slightly more adventurous in his tastes, sampling local specialities and even trying a morsel of duck, to my mum's disgust. However, a little bistro somewhere in the Pyrennes turned out to be his undoing.

Only two words are necessary to paint a picture of what happened next: steak tartare.

When he placed his order in his strident Australian accent, alarm bells obviously started ringing for the waitress who nobly tried to warn him that it was a taste he was likely to be unused to. But Dad, who is one of nature's most stubborn creatures, ignored her and insisted on going ahead with the steak tartare.

I can imagine him doing his darndest to hide his initial surprise when the waitress (probably with a wry Gallic grin) presented the dish complete with one huge, wet, orangey egg yolk resting in a crater of raw mince. 

My dad was shaking so much he couldn't focus

Now if you've read my article on the Sunken Cost Fallacy (click here) you'd know that many people would have persisted with eating (or hiding) the dish they had stubbornly ordered in the face of so many warnings to save embarrassment. Not my dad. He sent it back to get cooked.

Mum and Dad have been back for a couple of weeks now, so they've had plenty of opportunities to regale my wife and me with all their stories. Most of them sound very interesting. (I'm a little tired of hearing about crepes though. Seriously, my mum has turned into that dude from Forrest Gump who liked prawns.)

Listening to their stories, I've discerned three lessons from my parents' trip to France.

Without further ado here they are:

Lesson 1: Good ambience and simple manners go a long way

One thing my parents really came to appreciate travelling around France was the ambience of the restaurants and cafes. Mum and Dad comment over and over how pleasant it was dining in the many restaurants, bistros and cafes they discovered. Listening to their stories, I picked up on that they were made to feel welcome and comfortable. The music was never too loud, the service professional and attentive, and the interior cosy and well cared for.

Another aspect of the whole welcoming thing that they also noticed was how retailers, restauranteurs and cafe operators would greet them with a friendly "bonjour" and farewell them with a hearty "au revoir" without fail.

I can't help but get the feeling that this is an important lesson for Freo's traders, restauranteurs and cafe operators. Western Australia isn't really known for its outstanding service, certainly not compared with European standards. Maybe Freo's traders can buck the trend and make this part of its point of difference?

Lesson 2: Plenty of space and patience for cyclists

Mum and Dad are avid cyclists. Over the years I've slowly learnt to live with the image of my father in his brightly coloured lycra bicycle pants. Mum has developed a 'Rain Man' like knowledge and recall of each of the riders who compete in the Tour de France.

For my parents, cycling around parts of France must have been akin to me travelling to an awesomely kick ass Parisian bistro and tucking into my fair share of french onion soup, duck confit and steak and frites - a dream come true.

Mum doing her best Cadel impersonation in Brittany near Brest.
Normally Dad's lycra pants are more colourful.

Pedalling on their bikes around France, Mum and Dad noticed a big difference between French motorists and Perth motorists. They were given ample space on the road whether or not there was a bicycle lane. They came to appreciate the patience that French motorists had for them as they pedalled along on their way.

This lesson really goes beyond Freo and can be applied on a much broader level. Next time I have a cyclist pedalling away in front of me in my car, I'll think of Mum, Dad and those patient French motorists. Maybe us Freo motorists can be at the vanguard of treating cyclists (no matter how silly looking or somewhat annoying they can be) with a fair degree of patience?

Lesson 3: Paris is really a bunch of little villages

Initially my dad planned on spending only a couple of nights in Paris. I'm thinking that he was a put off by spending too much time in a big city. What would be the point of dealing with the noise, people, traffic?

Fortunately for my dad, he has a pretty cool strategic town planner (and budding placemaker) as his first born son. Over a couple of months, a little like the way the City of Freo's website breaks you down to the point where you can't be bothered checking it out any longer, I managed to convince him that they would enjoy a week in my favourite city.

Mum and Dad really enjoyed Paris. My dad confidently declared "Paris really is just a bunch of little villages" when he described what he enjoyed about his stay. Mum and Dad both responded to the pedestrian scale of Parisian streets. Walking around Paris was a pleasure. They enjoyed the interest that comes from walking and having street-level interaction. They even liked the consistent quality of the classic six and seven storey Parisian residential buildings.

Mum and Dad liked the pedestrian scale of the Parisian streets.

I reckon there is an important lesson for Freo that lies in my dad's description of Paris. Two million people reside in central Paris. It is a city that has built up to six and seven storeys. It is also a tourist city. And yet it has retained its distinctiveness. For my parents, Paris was a city with soul.

So what about Freo? The good news is that change or development doesn't have to signify the end. What is crucial is that new development - whether it's Kings Square or the Woolstores Shopping Centre - must retain Freo's distinctiveness. I would prefer that when people come to visit or live in Fremantle, that they know they're in Fremantle and not anywhereville Perth.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Guest post: What can Fremantle learn from Glasgow?

Jon Strachan is the author of this post. Jon is a City of Fremantle Councillor and also has his own blog. To view Jon's blog click here. After hearing about Jon's recent visit to Glasgow, I asked if he would write a guest post for Freo Doctor blog readers. Thanks Jon!

There are many similarities between Fremantle and Glasgow, so much so that a South Fremantle friend hailing from Glasgow suggested we should approach them to become our next sister city.  The crucial difference is of course that Glasgow is a city in its own right, with its own suburbs, whilst Fremantle is a suburb of greater Perth.

I have visited Glasgow three times in my life, once as youngster in the late 1960’s with some older mates who had a car.  I have vague memories of haggis floaters from a café de wheels and some pretty desperate people.

Later in the early 1970’s while serving an apprenticeship at Fylingdales Early Warning station, I lived in the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough. I still have vivid memories of the influx of Glaswegians during their factory fortnight.  One night, a bunch of Glaswegian youths surrounded me in a pub and explained that the girl I was talking to was going with them. When I protested knives were produced!  This experience just went to reinforce my view that the place was full of desperate people.

In the summer of 2006 I returned with my brother and our partners, staying in Byres Road, the Fremantle end of town.  What a revelation - cafes, bars, provedores and quirky shops in laneways.  I felt at home instantly.  The time of neglect was well over and the old buildings were looking fantastic.  Like Fremantle the period of neglect had allowed the built heritage to remain. These wonderful buildings are now in high demand.  We loved the place.

When I had an opportunity to return earlier this year I eagerly took it up. This time, I visited Glasgow with a local and got to see the things I would have missed as a tourist.

So back to the question, what can Fremantle learn from Glasgow? My list is short, simple and very important.

1. Have enough people living in the city centre to create vibrancy and passive surveillance.  Relying on visitors to provide vibrancy is doomed to failure, a city needs a core community to give the place definition and confidence.

2. Control alcohol fuelled antisocial behaviour. This is done through regulation, policing and community peer group advocacy.

3. Have restaurants open late at night. In Glasgow, booking a table after 9pm is the norm, not the exception.

4. Celebrate your heritage as something special. Glaswegians are extremely proud of their history and the people who made it.

5. Value heritage buildings. There are some stunning tenement terraces in central Glasgow that now command far more rent as office space than new buildings. New builds adjacent to older buildings respect and take their cues from their seniors.

6. Value your parks.  Wherever you are in Glasgow you are never far away from a park.

7. Lastly, live life to the fullest.

If you get a chance go and stay in Glasgow preferably in summer! If not, enjoy Fremantle.

New Glasgow. Source: Jon Strachan.
Lots of people living and working in Glasgow helps to create vibrancy and passive surveillance.
Source: Jon Strachan
Interesting shop displays in Glasgow. Source: Jon Strachan
Old school Glasgow. Source: Jon Strachan

Jon Strachan (http://www.jonstrachan.com/)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Freo power rankings: July 2012

To Council's credit there is a lot going on in Freo at the moment. I thought I'd do my first ever power rankings to categorise the good, the bad and the ugly.

For these rankings, I've decided to run with my very own categories:

- Awesome
- Kick ass (not quite awesome, but kick ass nonetheless.)
- Cup of hot fat (this category is an ode to Roy and HG and their assessment of the diving during the 2000 Olympics. A belly flop was so bad it was considered a cup of hot fat.)

So without further ado and with a focus on the City of Fremantle, here are my first ever power rankings:


Department of Housing relocating to Freo

The recent announcement by the State Government that the Department of Housing will be relocating to Freo is awesome. A number of locations spring to mind. Point Street, the decripit Woolstores building or Kings Square. One thousand bureaucrats working in the centre of Freo is a change for the better.

Kings Square Urban Design Strategy

I've already written about this document in a previous post (click here). Suffice it to say that this document is, dare I say it...awesome.

Kick ass

Free bicycle hire from Kings Square

City of Fremantle-supported free bicycle hire has been operating out of Kings Square for a little while now. I reckon it is kick ass.

Free bike hire at Kings Square

Fremantle Economic Development Forum

A couple of weeks ago I rocked up to the City of Fremantle Economic Development Forum. What was particularly kick ass about the event was the opening part of the evening. Held in the Malloy Courtyard at Notre Dame, locals were able to enjoy a natter complete with a jazz band in the background and great food. Kick ass idea. 

Cup of hot fat

Town Hall

The inept use of the Town Hall was mentioned during the Economic Development Forum. The terrible way this iconic landmark has been maintained is compounded by the fact that this building could be being used much more effectively and with greater respect.

Consider the treatment of the Town Hall by Council over the past couple of decades a great big stinking cup of hot fat.

Consider the treatment and use of the Town Hall a cup of hot fat

It would be great to see this Council allocate some funds to: painting the Town Hall; a long-term maintenance and upgrade program; and the preparation of a plan for using the building more effectively.

Front counter at Council administration building

I often write about how it is the little things that count in conveying the right message. Check out my photo of the front counter at the Council administration building.

Sending the right message?

I don't know how long this has been the case with the front counter - I first noticed it months ago. The lack of attention to detail and failure to care represents an espresso sized cup of hot fat. What kind of message does this send to residents, ratepayers, important dignitaries, and landowners? Not a good one.

City of Fremantle website

If the front counter sign represents an espresso sized cup of hot fat, I wonder if there is a bowl big enough to house all of the hot fat that represents the City's website?

The City's newish (launched circa 2009 or 2010) website is ordinary to say the least. Intuitive? Easy to use? No and no. It is also difficult to track how the City progresses with its projects. 

Freo Doctor blog publishing on Tuesdays and Fridays

Regular Freo Doctor Blog readers will know that in June I trialled publishing posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I thought it worked quite well, although it was a bit of a rush getting Thursday's post ready for publishing.

For the forseable future, I'm going to stick with the goal of publishing at least two posts a week, but on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Sometimes, I'll be so awesomely organised that there'll even be the odd additional post.

Friday, 20 July 2012

What my weiros (Pearl and Spiro) have taught me about placemaking

Pearl photobombing Spiro
In an alternate universe my wife is quite probably a crazy bird lady (a little like the crazy cat lady from the Simpsons but with better fashion sense). Our family consists of a couple of weiros - Pearl and Spiro - who have been with us for a couple of years now.

Pearl and Spiro have made themselves very welcome in our little apartment, very welcome indeed. Not only have they made themselves welcome, they've cornered the market on getting up to mischief as well.

Spiro has a penchant, nay a fetish, for my wife's makeup. He is obsessed with it. One time my wife and I returned from an outing to see Spiro head down and feathery bum up in her makeup case, conducting his own rigorous animal testing trial. My wife had made the mistake of leaving it open and in plain sight. It was obvious that Spiro had enjoyed a very special afternoon of excess. With the amount of makeup plastered all over his beak and face, Spiro looked like a character straight out of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

One of the best things about our little birds is that over the years they've given me an interesting insight into placemaking. It sounds a little weird, but keeping these little tyros happy in my role as their personal placemaker is a lot like placemaking for us humans.

I thought I'd share some lessons that I've learnt from placemaking for our weiros that are particularly relevant to placemaking for people.

Lesson 1: Food glorious food

Not only are our weiros professional mischief makers (and budding makeup artists) they happen to be gourmands as well.

The weiros helping themselves to some tucker
This is handy for budding placemakers. My wife and I have learnt to use food to entice them to a certain area (say away from her makeup nook). This tactic works brilliantly. As a placemaking nerd, I take particular delight in seeing Pearl and Spiro hanging out in an area of the apartment where we've put out some seed and other little delights to attract them.

We've seen this lesson applied in Henry Street and work wonders. Over the last four years, Moore & Moore Cafe has shown the value of offering a food option for this street. It has worked to attract people to Henry Street and to the art gallery.

The lessons learnt from this experiment could definitely be applied around Freo. Arthur Head immediately springs to mind. A quality cafe/restaurant/small bar in the J Shed would attract people to this part of Freo.

Lesson 2: Women have discerning tastes

I've noticed that Pearl, like my wife, is the classy one out of the weiros. With her more discerning tastes, Pearl is the linchpin in determining the success of my weiro placemaking experiments. I've discovered that if my experiments pass Pearl's test of placemaking awesomeness then Spiro is guaranteed to follow.

This is not dissimilar to what legendary placemaker William 'Holly' Whyte observed about us humans. Back in the 1970s he observed that "women are more discriminating than men as to where they will sit, more sensitive to annoyances, and they spend more time casing the various possibilities."

This rings true for me. Like Pearl, my wife is more selective when it comes to choosing where we hang out. Unfortunately this lesson has played out in a negative sense across many of Freo's less savoury places over the years. It'll be worth keeping this lesson in mind when it comes to carrying out the Kings Square redevelopment.

Lesson 3: Play on curiousity as a natural attractor

As well as being the classy one of the weiros and aside from my wife's makeup case, Pearl also happens to be the more curious bird.

Pearl's inquisitiveness means that when it comes to my placemaking experiments she is the early adopter of the weiros. I know that if I can set something up that plays to her curiousity - something she can interact with - I'm well on my way to a successful experiment.

Learning this about the weiros reminded me of the old adage that people attract people. This is also true of our weiros. Where Pearl goes Spiro follows.

Thinking about this lesson, I feel that introducing a little bit of fun in places like Old Port Project at Bathers Beach through interesting and engaging artworks would go a long way to attracting the more curious of us.

Lesson 3a: Cater to people's different moods

The different personalities (and moods) of my weiros also remind me that not only do people have different personalities, but that their moods fluctuate as well.

Weiros are helpfully outfitted with crests that are a good indictator of whether they're happy or uncertain (or in Spiro's case, bitey). Just like them, sometimes I feel like socialising and other times I'd rather be left alone. Often whether or not I'm keen to socialise determines how I use or feel welcome in a particular place.

This lesson will be useful when redeveloping Kings Square. Incorporating as many different ways of engaging with the space will be a sure fire way of being welcoming to people and their different moods.

Lesson 4: Try new things

A little like humans, the weiros have relatively short attention spans. I've come to appreciate the usefulness of a regular set of activities and flexibility.

When they begin to lose interest in a particular activity, my wife and I know that it's time to try something new or roll out an old activity that has been succesful but in hiatus. We've also noticed that Pearl and Spiro respond to certain activities being rolled out on a consistent basis - almost like a schedule of events. It begins with toast in the mornings, primarily to shove in their little gobs when they start to join the dawn chorus, and ends with a good scratch on the head at night.

Thinking about how important a program of events has become for my wife and I in keeping our weiros happy, I was thinking that this tactic could be particularly useful one for Arthur Head.

Including Arthur Head in Freo's festivals would be a useful way of applying this lesson. Taking this concept to the next level could include a bespoke Arthur Head program of events aimed at attracting people to the precinct.

Lesson 5: An active bird means a bird not getting up to mischief

Pearl and Spiro's dedication to the dark arts of mischief has taught my wife and I that expensive jewellery, furnishings, clothes etc and bored weiros are a match made in heaven.

Given the nightly shouts, screams and shenanigans coming from Kings Square that are audible from our living room window it would seem that this lesson can also be applied to Freo in the evening. Maybe with a bit more activity and natural surveillance this could become a good place to visit after dark as well as during the day.


Well, that's about it from the aviary that is our apartment. Five lessons from my weiros, Pearl and Spiro, for placemaking in Freo.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Still the Chills: Insight Foundation's Lost Dogs Home Winter Blanket Appeal

Introducing our dog Henry

A few months ago, our dog Henry (he stays in Floreat with my wife's parents) slipped his collar and got himself lost near Mundaring Weir. We searched through the bush for hours, well into the night, until close to 11pm when we were forced to call it a day.

It turned out to be the coldest May night on record for something like forty years. It was impossible for my wife and I to take any pleasure in being snuggled warmly under our doona - all we could think about was Henry shivering in a drift of chill autumn leaves, hungry and freezing. 

The whole family was back early the next morning to search some more and after a few hours of tramping through the bush, we called in at the Mundaring Weir Hotel on the off chance that someone had spotted Henry. 

"Oh yeah, we've got him." A friendly waiter told us casually. "He's off helping Kevin." He turned to lead us into the grounds of the hotel, calling over his shoulder, "He really likes his sausages, doesn't he?"

And so he was returned, full of quiche lorraine and sausage meat and extremely perky after a night tucked snugly in Kevin's bed. Apparently he'd turned up the afternoon before at about 5pm - only about half an hour after he'd gone missing.

We drove back home with Henry sitting on my wife's lap, his head out the window, my sister-in-law in the back seat muttering about seeing whether Kevin wanted to make the arrangement more permanent.

So as everyone can imagine, keeping lost dogs snug is a topic close to my heart.

Lost dogs winter blanket appeal

Today I found out that the Insight Foundation is running a week long Still the Chills Winter Appeal to collect blankets for lost dogs and thought that this initiative was worthy of a post on the old blog.

If you're keen to donate any old blankets or towels (or care to buy some from an op shop or brand new) call Simon Rosengarten on 0428 533 010 to arrange a drop off or pick-up. The deadline is this Sunday 22 July 2012.

Blankets and towels will be passed on to the Dogs' Refuge Home (click here to go to their website).

My wife and I will be donating a load of blankets with pretty cool people like Kevin in mind.

Henry wondering when the next serve of quiche lorraine and sausages was going to be served

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Lets get high: A three minute history of high buildings

Dean Cracknell is the author of this post. He is a Freo devotee interested in creating diverse places for people. He is a guest contributor to The Fremantle Doctor blog. Dean can be followed on Twitter by checking out: @city_pragmatist

“If you want a new idea, read an old book” is a brilliant quote that has rattled around in my head many times.

It’s also a pretty good way to introduce a really short history of tall buildings. Building height has been topical and contentious in Freo recently. Debate continues on what the port city should look like in the future. Debate is great, but it’s sometimes useful to look back to see where we’ve come from in order to work out where we should go in the future.

Tall buildings aren't new

Tall buildings are not new - we have had them for thousands of years. The Romans developed 10 storey buildings over 2,000 years ago. In fact, cities as far apart as Edinburgh, Scotland (14 storeys), Bologna, Italy (97.2 metres high) and Shibam, Yemen (11 storeys) also had tall buildings hundreds of years ago. The first modern “skyscraper” was built in Chicago in 1884 and was 10 storeys high.

Towns and cities used to be compact as they were surrounded by high, defensive walls, which limited the geographical extent of urban areas. The main mode of transport was walking, which also helped to produce compact, mixed use city centres. Old cities then were quite familiar with taller buildings. I spent some time living in London last year and loved soaking up the atmosphere and history. As a town planning nerd, I was amazed to read in the Museum of London that building height limits were introduced in London 345 years ago to help control...fires!

The Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London in 1666 had just devastated large swathes of the medieval wooden city. The speedily introduced London Building Act of 1667 specified that all new buildings were to be built from brick or stone to help prevent fires. It also set maximum building heights. The Act stipulated four types of residential buildings that would be permitted.

1. Buildings of the first sort

- A basement cellar, two storeys plus an attic sited on small streets and lanes.

2. Buildings of the second sort

- A basement cellar, three storeys plus an attic sited on larger streets.

3. Buildings of the third sort

- A basement cellar, four storeys plus an attic sited on main roads.

4. Buildings of the fourth sort

- Mansions with fewer restrictions than the other three but still restricted to four storeys plus cellar and attic.

Check out some examples from London:

An example of a 'Building of the Second Sort' in Mayfair, London

An example of a 'Building of the Third Sort' in Sloane Square, London
I am not going to pretend that I have read the London Building Act of 1667 (even town planning nerds have their limits!), but this dusty, old statute book may have some new ideas for us to think about.

What can we learn?

I reckon there are four points relevant for Freo today:

1. Permitted building height was based on the size and importance of the street – bigger streets could have taller buildings.

Urban designers now think that this is a pretty good idea. A rough rule of thumb they use is that building facades (or frontages) should be no taller than the width of the adjacent street. A 1:1 ratio helps enclose the street while still allowing for sunlight to reach the street for most of the year. We often now refer to this as human-scale development as it is very mindful of the comfort of pedestrians walking along the street.

I think this is a pretty good starting point for thinking about building height. The standard is clear, transparent and easily understood. The standard would mean that a street 20 metres wide could have a building facade up to 20 metres high (5-6 storeys). Taller building elements could be set back further behind the building facade if necessary.

Smaller streets and laneways would have lower building heights. This rule of thumb works from an urban design perspective as well as a pragmatic perspective I think.

2. The building requirements developed in 1667 still shape the appearance of many areas of central London (count the number of storeys plus attic if you go to London). This is a very important point as it demonstrates that planning decisions can have big impact over decades and even centuries. We should be planning and building for the long term and mandating high quality development, rather than encouraging disposable buildings that we can toss away after 20 years in another illustration of our throwaway society.

3. Taller buildings are found throughout the most expensive and exclusive areas of London (as well as most other European cities). East Perth has a similar building form and is also an expensive area. This suggests to me that the quality of the building matters more than the height of the building.

4. Three of the four housing types specified in the 1667 Act allowed building heights greater than that currently permitted in the Fremantle city centre - 345 years later. Of course Freo is special, but I think it is difficult to say that Freo can’t handle a bit more high quality building height.

While on the subject of getting ideas from old books, did you know that London taxi drivers are still required by (a never repealed) law to always carry a hay bale and bag of oats?

Can’t say I have seen that in a London cab. Maybe not every idea from an old book is still appropriate. But I think a bit of history can help us think more about Freo’s future.

Chalk it up: Paperhouses exhibition at Earlywork Gallery in South Freo

Paperhouses exhibition at Earlywork Gallery
There's an interesting sounding exhibition, Paperhouses, opening later this week at Earlywork Gallery in South Freo.

I thought that I'd tag along and check out the handcrafted and painted three dimensional artworks of houses, buildings and sceneries.

The solo exhibition features works by artist Magali Dincher, owner of creative business Beau Est Mien and local Freo resident. Magali used to work in town planning (my wife already feels sorry for her) and by the looks of her artworks, she is a lover of architecture.

Opening night for Magali's Paperhouses exhibition is this Friday 20 July from 6:30pm to 8:00pm at the Earlywork Gallery (Shop 9, The Biscuit Factory, 330 South Terrace). The good news is that it is open to the public. Paperhouses concludes on 29 July.

Here are two other examples of Magali's three dimensional artworks:

Magali Dincher's artwork being shown at Paperhouses exhibition
A bit of three storey action going on at the Magali Dincher's Paperhouses exhibition

Additional information:

Magali's website can be checked out by clicking here.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Freo Quick Shot: Welcoming places - pekho on Wray Avenue

I'm taking a leaf out of the Cool Melbourne Guy's (aka Dean Cracknell) playbook and making this post a Freo Quick Shot.

I'm a big believer that the little things count in creating welcoming places. So I was pretty chuffed when I walked past pekho on Wray Avenue the other day and saw the 'Dogs welcome' sign on the front window.

A welcoming place at pekho on Wray Avenue

For me, this photo tells a story of how our traders can be our best placemakers. Awesome stuff!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Freo Doctor Blog enters the realm of fashion

It is a scary thought, especially for those unfortunate people who knew me before I met my wife, but the Fremantle Doctor Blog is entering the fashion world.

My wife and a good friend of mine have spent some time drawing up some t-shirt designs that are now available here.

Here is a sneak peak of the three designs:

My friend has made use of the very interesting Redbubble website (click here to check out all of his designs). The designs can also be purchased as stickers as well.

In the next few weeks, look out for a seriously fashionable Freo Doctor walking the streets of Freo.

(Mum and Dad...guess what you're getting for Christmas?)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My thoughts on the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy

Exciting times are ahead for Freo's Kings Square with the adoption of an Urban Design Strategy by Council a couple of weeks ago.

Over the past couple of nights, I've sauntered off with a comfy blanket and a good cup of tea to run my eye over the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy. Even though the horse has bolted, I thought that I'd share some of my thoughts on the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy:

What I like...

1. Two squares for the price of one

I like that we're getting two squares for the price of one. The church owned portion of Kings Square will have a more passive green theme. The Council owned portion will have a more urban feel. Nice work.

This approach imbeds a number of options for people to enjoy and hang out in Kings Square. It will also mean a fair degree of flexibility for people (and Council) about how the square will be used over the course of a day, week and a year.

2. Small triangle development facing Myer building

I like the concept of the triangle development in the north-eastern section of the square.

The overall effect of this building reminds me of Federation Square in Melbourne. Over there they adopted a unique approach to the placement of different buildings into the public space. I'm a fan of Federation Square as there are different nooks and crannies to hang out. I get the feeling that this concept can work here in Freo.

The strategy indicates that the triangle development will go hand in hand with reducing the footprint of the building that replaces the current Council offices and library. This means that the majority of the public space will be maintained but in a unique and different way.

A real positive about this approach is that it introduces a range of new ground floor activation opportunities into Kings Square. If these uses are chosen (and managed) well, we'll be getting some new attractions and destinations at Kings Square.

3. Urban Room

The Urban Room idea is certainly out of the box and different to the stock standard stuff we see these days. After a fair degree of thought (and some cups of tea), I'm prepared to run with the concept.

Why? I think that it provides yet another option for people to enjoy and linger in the space. If the design is pulled off well, I feel that the urban room will give Kings Square something different. What a great way of setting Freo's square apart from what else is on offer in Perth. Kings Square will certainly have its point of difference.

I like that chronic sweaters like me who sweat up just thinking about a thirty degree day will have the option of sitting in the urban room during the dog days of summer. It'll be important to ensure that all the right amenities are provided so that this 'room' is comfortable and welcoming for people to use and enjoy.

I was thinking that this type of space also offers opportunities for a dedicated program of events at Kings Square as well as a large public space to gather for special occasions.

What I think needs improving...

1. Ensure night time activation 

For me, one of the most crucial measures of success for this project will be whether or not Kings Square will be active at night after its redevelopment. Thinking about this, I'm conscious that civic and community uses work well to attract people during the day. The problem is that they struggle to activate the space at night.

Cafes, restaurants and small bars are night time attractors. They activate spaces by attracting people to linger and gather during the evening. At night I'm afraid that civic and community uses just can't compete with that kind of drawing power. With this in mind, some tweaks to the strategy to ensure that enough night time ground floor uses are provided around the triangle development and the urban room would represent an improvement.

2. Where is the rooftop garden?

One of my favourite afternoons during my trip to London last year was spent with my wife exploring and hanging out on an awesome rooftop garden on a Richard Branson owned six storey building in Kensington.

It was brilliant. Our London Walk tour around Kensington finished at this building and our guide (an actor from The Bill no less) mentioned that there was a rooftop garden, complete with flamingos...and that it was free. Well, that was enough for my wife, who practically sprinted to the lifts. Seconds later we walked out onto one of the best gardens in London. We ended up having a great experience on that roof and remember it fondly.

Kick ass rooftop garden in London

Two flamengos with their heads in the water on kick ass rooftop garden in London
(Unlike my wife, I soon tired of taking photos of flamingos with their heads in the water and took the opportunity to enjoy a nanna nap.)

Based on our experience that afternoon and the general awesomeness of rooftop gardens in general, I'm thinking that the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy could be improved to incorporate an awesome rooftop garden. Where? For me, I'm thinking that the Urban Room looks like a good bet. Imagine the views! A rooftop garden would add another great attraction and continue Kings Square's point of difference.

(Just quietly, if a rooftop garden proves to be a tad expensive initially, I'd like to see the buildings designed so that having one remains an option into the future.)

3. Why no shared space along Queen Street?

It is generally accepted that a crucial component of the success of public squares is the degree to which they are easily accessible by foot. This kind of thinking fits well with my experiences sampling different squares and piazzas. For me, the best ones were easy to get to.

Maybe I'm pushing a barrel uphill on this one, but I'm thinking that the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy could be improved with the addition of shared space along Queen Street, especially along the portion of the street that runs along the square.

In a similar way to how Le Mans managed to incorporate light rail into its public square, I believe that buses can be made to pass through a shared space. It doesn't have to be an either/or solution. After all, if the long-term vision is for Queen Street as a shopping street, then the street will have to be made more pedestrian friendly anyway.

What I think doesn't work...

1. Newman Court

This has been a tough one for me. I seem to be going against the grain on this one but I can't bring myself to like that the strategy recommends bringing back a road.

I just don't subscribe to the argument that the silver bullet for reinvigorating Kings Square (or Myer) was a road. Instead, I think that Kings Square has been let down by a failure in a range of things. For example, the Myer building itself doesn't do Kings Square any favours. Blank, inactive facades don't do much to foster a place that people are willing to care about. Are there attractions and destinations? What about night time attractors? The answers to these questions are no and no.

So I tend to think that the Urban Design Strategy is actually good enough without needing to introduce a road at Newman Court.

In saying that, designing Newman Court as a shared space is a saving grace of this idea. Shared space does allow for the road to be closed and if designed properly it does provide for pedestrian priority. I'd like to see the parking bays designed so that it allows for parklets to be provided. Removing a bay and providing dedicated cyling bays is another option.


There's a lot to like about this strategy. I like that we're getting two squares for the price of one. I like the innovative ideas such as the triangle development and the urban room. There is also some room for improvement though...where is the rooftop garden?

Overall, I'm a supporter of the Kings Square Urban Design Strategy. Well done to all those involved.

Additional reading

The Kings Square Urban Design Strategy can be viewed at this page on the City's website under 'useful documents'.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

'Fixing' Arthur Head

'Fixing' Arthur Head. It's an issue that's been attracting a fair amount of attention for a little while now and I thought it was time for me to weigh in on the debate.

What currently works?

Having walked around the precinct a couple of times with this issue in mind, I reckon that a lot of what is currently in place is actually working on a foundational level. It strikes me as a shame the City seems to be inclined to take the easy way out and wipe the slate clean, which is admittedly the more fun approach when compared with the hard, boring work of good maintenance and continuous small improvements.

I like that a proud and engaged community organisation like the Fremantle Society is headquartered within a stone's throw of one of Freo's most iconic buildings. I like that community groups can book this building for meetings and that events like the Amazing Place Race are run from this old cottage. I like that there is a young family living next door, with kiddies who activate the area in the way only children can.

Fremantle Society HQ

To me it seems wrong that the few elements of the precinct that really work are the ones destined for the chop.

Walking down the weather beaten wooden steps to the J Shed, I think that it is charming that the man responsible for so many of Freo's cool statues (and a fair share of my mini Freo monuments), Greg James, has his HQ in one of the studios. Another successful artist, Jenny Dawson, as well as her photographer partner, Peter Zuvela, also operate out of another of the J Shed studios. I first met Peter at the photo exhibition of his trip to Croatia held just around the corner at the Kidogo Arthouse. I reckon that there is a successful arts precinct happening in the J Shed right before our eyes.

The J Shed...already a nice little arts hub?
Maybe it's the cynic in me, but why would whacking in a few more artist studios make Arthur Head any more of an attraction than it currently is at the moment? It seems a shallow, one-dimensional idea of facilitating the arts and placemaking to me, and not a guaranteed recipe for vibrancy.

What needs improving?


- Walking around the actual precinct, I couldn't help but notice that signage is lacking.

Look and feel around the J Shed

- Quality places matter when it comes to attracting people. Gravel and sand just doesn't present the right kind of message.
Gravel and sand around the J Shed

(I understand a Greg James led initiative to repaint the J Shed is in the works for later this year, which will greatly improve the look of the shed. Great initiative.)

Marketing and promotion

- Arthur Head barely cracks a mention on the City's website. 

Programming of events

- The precinct could be included in more of Freo's Festivals. Additionally, Is there an opportunity to have a series of dedicated events that run out of the precinct? Maybe the artists already housed in the J Shed would jump at the opportunity to be included as part of this initiative?

Rundown buildings

- This is a no brainer. Like many of the City's buildings, the current building that hosts the Fremantle Society is in dire need of some tender loving care.

Where's the food?

My stomach may be doing the talking on this one but I think that the City is being naive when it thinks that it can attract people to the area and then keep them in the precinct without food. Giving people the opportunity for a coffee and cake is such a sure-fire way to get them to visit and then hang around that it seems remiss that it hasn't been included. Or maybe the City's intention is to only attract serious arty types for whom art is meat and drink enough? (A crowd not known for their unrestrained sense of fun, in my experience.)

A cafe/restaurant/small bar in the most southernly J Shed studio would be pretty cool.

View from a potential cafe/restaurant...looks good to me

Great opportunity for a potetial cafe/restaurant to operate out of the J Shed?

Defining success step by step...backwards

I've become very attached to a process called backward mapping in recent years, which basically works by beginning with a description of your desired outcome and then working backwards to define the steps necessary to produce it.

In this instance, outlining the management of artists seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. I don't think the time, nor the priorities, are right. I suggest that the City and Council would get more value out of doing the following:

- Shifting the focus from arts hubs only thinking to broader, more inclusive and more practical ideas for Arthur Head, such as infrastructure upgrades, building maintenance, and placemaking opportunities.

- Defining how a successful Arthur Head precinct would look, feel and function. I'd like to see some evidence that someboday has considered the ideal experiences of Arthur Head by an artist, a resident and a tourist.

- Break down what is needed into individual components and fit them into a backward map. Start defining what projects fall out of the backward map and what a successful year would entail.


The current approach to planning for the Arthur Head precinct doesn't appear to fit intuitively with what is currently happening on the ground in the area. The arts hub only thinking also has a distinct sledge hammer feel about it.

For me, thinking about what a successful Arthur Head would look like would provide greater value at this stage rather than persisting with an arts hub only approach.