Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Off the rails

The bumper cars didn't last long.
Any plans to get them fixed?
My wife and I recently enjoyed an old fashioned movie night, during which I introduced her to such genre masterpieces as Alien and Die Hard.

To lighten the mood after a squabble over the remote during Alien (my finger kept slipping and changing the channel during the scary bits, resulting in forced confiscation) my wife and I concluded the evening with a viewing of Dumb and Dumber.

For those not familiar with the film, early on the pet budgie of one of the main characters meets a sticky end and is left headless. In need of some quick cash, the budgie's erstwhile owner Lloyd sticky-tapes the head back on and sells the dead budgie to a blind boy. The scene concludes with images of the blind boy patting his strangely mute companion and crooning its name, while Lloyd spends his cash on a novelty cowboy hat.

Thinking about the recently completed Bathers Beach upgrade with its strip of asphalt, the dustbowl and now the bumper cars I can't help but feel like the blind kid who got swindled by Lloyd. I'm afraid that we've been left with a bit of a lemon.

What's wrong?

When it first became evident to local residents and businesses that this project was heading down the proverbial placemaking gurgler, those responsible at the City and Council stuck their heads in the sand. They issued a now infamous media release (click here for my translation) claiming that community consultation done way back in 2004 was evidence enough that the City was right and the community was wrong. That was in February.

Not much has changed. The long strip of asphalt still resembles a car park. The asphalt is now grey and it still presents terribly.

Lost opportunity?
It's completely under-used except as a hugely unnecessarily wide footpath - although come summer when the sun heats up the tarmac to nuclear temperatures I suspect even that use will dwindle.

The dustbowl also remains, functioning only as a pathway that people pass over as quickly as possible.

Another lost opportunity?
The dustbowl really does put the 'd' into dysfunctional. An image of a sticky taped budgie flutters into the mind again. What a lost opportunity.

Sandwiched in between the asphalt and the dustbowl is the green area. It isn't really my cup of tea. The bumper cars seem impractical and almost beg for tender fingers to crush, and the area appears a little too cluttered. But I suppose I can live with it. One thing is for sure, the lawn really does serve to emphasise the jarring and blunt feeling of the project's design.

Whats the point of these?

The lawn softens the area.

The railway tracks appear to be a winner with the kids.

What's next?

It's time to start looking at what can be done to transform this place from dysfunctional into desirable.

Here are eight ideas that spring to mind:

1. First things first. Let's see Council and the City change its thinking about this project.
Walking through the area, I get the feeling that this project has been over interpreted. The heritage interpretation has been done in isolation. Heritage interpretation and having a nice, fun place that everyone can enjoy are not mutually exclusive. Actually, I think it is high time that Council and the City started practising what they've been preaching when it comes to placemaking. How many times do they need to pay for David Engtwicht to come out for a feel-good talkfest before his advice actually delivers some results?

2. Take the parklet example and see if it can be applied to the strip of asphalt, which as it is, is a complete failure.

3. Extend the lawn into the dustbowl.

4. Introduce some decent lighting.

5. Introduce more fun. How about another simple (and safe) example of kid-friendly interactive public art?

6. Invest in a pontoon for the beach. This is a no brainer and could be in place for this summer.

7. Give people the option to bring their own food by putting in a shared BBQ facility.

8. Start including Bathers Beach in Freo's Festivals.


  1. Yes Michael, shaded seating arrangments, barbeques, interactive art for kids to play with, or a funky playground are all good ideas, so is lawn or paving to replace the silly dust bowl in front of the gallery

    Roel Loopers

  2. I can't agree more Michael. I hope it's not going to be left in its current state, what a waste.

  3. I hate BBQ ares. They attract bogans, grog and litter.