Friday, 7 June 2013

Elodie has arrived!

Huzzah! Freo Doctor Blog readers will be glad to know that my baby daughter Elodie has arrived!

She was born on 29 May 2013 (on JFK's birthday) weighing 3.410kg. My wife and I are still debating whether or not she has jet black or brown hair.

I'm glad to report that my wife and Elodie are both well.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

A weiro and his man cave

My wife sent me a link to this article by Tom Cox who writes for The Guardian. 'My dad and the toad that lives in his shoe' is such a great read that I had to recommend it to Freo Doctor blog readers.

Speaking of toads living in shoes, Tom Cox's article got me thinking about our little boy weiro, Spiro, who has set up his own man cave at the top of our pantry. Freo Doctor Blog readers will remember Spiro from his starring role in such posts as 'What my weiros, Pearl and Spiro, have taught me about placemaking,' where I revealed his fetish for playing with my wife's makeup.

Well, he's back, but this time he's discovered his weiro masculinity. For the last fortnight, Spiro has been on a bout of antibiotics twice daily to sort out an eye infection. How do you administer medicine to a bird, you have probably never had to wonder? Basically it involves snaffling him at unsuspecting moments and then, as he opens his mouth to sink his beak into the tender flesh of your finger (or, if you've been doing it for more than a day, one of the many bandaids now covering your hand), you squirt the antibiotic cocktail down his throat.

Our success in giving him his medicine lasted a couple days before Spiro developed telepathic powers. The thought that it might be a good time to give him a dose need only flutter across my consciousness, and he would snap into high alert mode and place himself somewhere unreachable. I don't think that I need to explain that no amount of placemaking skills will help with nabbing a wily weiro who can read minds. So, I did what any self-respecting 36 year old male would do: Walk around with a tea towel draped over my head (for camoflage), resolutely thinking about my latest town planning/placemaking fad and definitely not about grabbing birds. When that failed, Band of Brothers got a couple of viewings. Freo Doctor Blog readers will be relieved to find out that my wife did not issue the go ahead for my 3am
shock and thunder raids.

Although we managed to keep up his medicine routine at great cost to both finger and Spiro's amour propre, Spiro wasn't finished with yet. About five days ago, I sauntered into the kitchen Hobbit style for my second breakfast when something spiky swooped down from the pantry and attached itself to my scalp with what felt like little grappling hooks. The little bugger had been watching Band of Brothers! He had set up his own stronghold and was now implementing a classic ambush of his unsuspecting enemy.

He banged on my head woodpecker style before retreating to the pantry and higher ground. Scratching my scalp, thinking that Spiro surprisingly gave a pretty good head massage, I looked up to see him watching me with a glint in his eye. To cap off his victory he let fly with a machine gun rat atat atat whistle and then disappeared back into the recesses of the pantry's top shelf. At that point, I didn't know whether to laugh or to be truly scared (I resolved to sleep with all of our bedroom doors closed that night just to be sure).

Since then, the little guy has been flying off each day for some Spiro time in his man cave, emerging with a look of rejuvenation and renewed confidence. The girl weiros, Pearl and Ramona, aren't allowed in. No one is quite sure exactly what he gets up to in there - my wife reports that during the day she often hears him whistling songs to himself and banging on something, while at other times the cave becomes mysteriously silent. 

Thankfully, his fortnight of antibiotics came to an end the other day and the little guy (with a healthy eye) is sitting on my shoulder enjoying a preen as I type this post. I'm tempted to check out Spiro's man cave but I'm a little worried about what a mind reading, Band of Brothers-watching weiro might be constructing. Plus even boy weiros need their space. Well, there goes the story of the little weiro who lives (part-time) in our pantry...inspired by the toad who lives in a shoe.

And seriously, check out the article by Tom Cox. It's friggin kick ass.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Placemaking power salute: Market Lane, Fremantle Markets

For some time now the good folk at the Fremantle Markets have been quietly kicking some placemaking goals.

With their improvements to Market Lane they’ve taken their placemaking efforts to a new level. The lane has been transformed from a drab entrance into an attractive, interesting part of the markets. Much needed seating with accompanying shade (very important for chronic sweaters such as yours truly) means that people can enjoy their food. Artificial turf combines with new greenery to soften the laneway, making for a more people-friendly place. Regular activities for the kids located in the lane attracts the crowds and cranks up the interest levels.

All of these new initiatives add up to a very earnest placemaking power salute being issued to the Fremantle Markets.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Some cool quotes about cities III

Welcome to the third edition of some cool quotes about cities.
First up is Lorne Daniel:

"Diversity makes a neighbourhood both functional and interesting for people on foot. Density drives that diversity because population density ensures there is a market for diverse retail, social, educational and other options...Our neighbourhood features a number of small boutique shops – one just carrying designer rain wear (we do live on the edge of a rainforest) – serving a niche market. The city needs enough population density to support those niche retailers. Of course, the more such unique stores can thrive, the more they in turn create the ambience that people want. The street becomes diverse and interesting – a destination – for more and more people."
Lorne's quote is from an article in which he chews the fat about what a walkable city really is. The article makes for a great read - pour yourself a nice cooling homemade iced tea and enjoy. I did.

Next up is Marcus Westbury:

"The most basic point at which cities, towns, communities and streets that are failing is often that they fail to fail enough. They become immune to experimentation and innovation and instead get stuck in a binary distinction between 'the big solution' and 'the status quo.'"
I don my cap to Marcus after that ripper of a quote. I took this quote from a blog post in which Marcus outlines his ideas about iterative urbanism. It is well worth reading.

Last but not least is a passage from 'Notes from a Small Island' by Bill Bryson:

"Calais is an interesting place that exists solely for the purpose of giving English people in shell suits somewhere to go for the day. Because it was heavily bombed in the war, it fell into the hands of post-war planners and in consequence looks like something left over from a 1957 Exposition du Cement. An alarming number of structures in the centre, particularly around the cheerless Place d'Armes, seem to have been modelled on supermarket packaging, primarily packets of Jacob's Cream Crackers. A few structures are even built across roads - always a sign of 1950s planners smitten with the novel possibilities of concrete."
I'm working on a theory that Bryson is one of our great philosophers on the subject of citites. I always enjoy reading about his insights into the urban world. In this quote Bryson describes an era of development that should be studied so as to ensure that we don't go down a similar path again. Let's start issuing his books to architects, town planners, urban designers and developers post haste!

That's it for this edition of some cool quotes about cities.
I've added Marcus' blog and Lorne's website "Rethink Urban" to my list of links as well. They're both valuable resources for the town planning and placemaking nerd.
Click here for the first edition and here for the second edition to check out some more cool quotes about cities.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day special: Lovers in public places

Joe Ravi is the author of this post. He is passionate about cities, placemaking and  public participation and believes in innovative and creative responses to urban planning issues. He is a guest contributor to the Fremantle Doctor Blog.

I’ve been a long time supporter of the Fremantle Doctor and as fellow Perth planning/placemaking geek when the good doctor asked me to contribute to his blog I was of course happy to oblige. We met at one of his favourite Fremantle hangouts to discuss the logistics of my contribution and decided that mid-February would be a good time for my first post. Valentines Day! Perfect, cue cheesy lovers in public places post.

As a younger planning student I kept my supply of two minute noodles and beer intact by moonlighting as a bartender at various establishments around town. The bars I tended were by no means romantic or trendy places and as staff we really had to put a lot of thought into setting the right ambience for the evening.

Over many nights working in these bars I began to observe social interactions and how we as staff could make contributions to encourage further interaction. I discovered, amongst many things, that by playing certain music and setting lights at the right level often we could make our patrons feel more comfortable interacting with one another. When delving deeper into what was happening I started to see more people approaching strangers and prospective future partners, more people were exchanging phone numbers and more people leaving the bar with a person they did not arrive with. We were curating the place and people were responding.

Those people who were successful in meeting a new friend and potential future partners on these nights often returned to the bars and would continue to do so if the right ambience was set. I mean it doesn’t really take a placemaking genius to work out that if you were to meet the love of your life somewhere, then that place would then be considered special for the two of you and you would be likely to return. Even if that love were only for one night you may be more inclined to return again to find if not that same love, then another.

When transitioned into the world of planning these same principles apply. Placemaking legend Holly Whyte noted in his studies of New York's public spaces that in great places, lovers are found and Project for Public Spaces Fred Kent has also stated:

“You know that you are in a really good place if you see lots of affection, you see lots of kissing in good places.’’

So this has got me thinking, did I have it right as a student? Could I have skipped all those years of study and just applied those same principles I learnt in bars, that all people really want in great place is a place, is to meet and spend time with a lover. Perhaps I guess, but that’s the beauty of hindsight and, as a planner, I don’t know how qualified I am to play cupid. So although my role as a matchmaker may be unclear, what is clear is that lovers and great places go hand in hand.

I hope readers enjoy my first contribution and I look forward to writing future posts.

Jane Jacobs quote for Valentine's Day

And my wife said that placemaking had nothing to do with Valentine's Day...

"Neighbourhood is a word that has come to sound like a Valentine. As a sentimental concept, 'neighbourhood' is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with sweet intentions in place of good sense."

- Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

I reckon that if Jacobs was writing today she'd swap "neighbourhood" with "sense of community".

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Bureauscopes: February 2013

Back by popular demand is the second edition of bureauscopes for February:


Mercury moves forward in your creative zone after being out of phase for the past month, so it's an ideal time for you to tackle those jobs jobs that require a bit of 'out-of-the-box' thinking: filling in your time sheets, getting past the blocks on websites like facebook and twitter, and explaining to your manager about that unfortunate gazetting mix up. It could have happened to anyone.


A major cosmic shift this month signals the beginning of a long, challenging project, so be prepared for a tumultuous start to the new elite AFL fantasy competition. The key question to ask yourself isn't what policy needs reviewing, but who is training the house down over the preseason?


While it's been a fun ride, Venus finally departs and settles into your too-many-long-lunches zone, where she is sure to bring your attention to all those feasts you've been enjoying - and if she doesn't, your better half sure will. Try to avoid horizontal stripes until the pace of work picks up again after the Christmas lull (round April) and forces a cutback in midday leisure time.


Bask in the glow that is Jupiter spending the next month in your sign. Reports completed: tick. Boss away on a conference: tick. Underlings suitably distracted with customer service enquiries: Boom tick! Just be wary of becoming complacent in the midst of all this good fortune, and make sure you don't post status updates on Facebook during working hours.


Commonsense guru Mercury moves into focus this month. In the wake of the 'hysterical resident incident' that you so brilliantly side-stepped, know that silence is the best and only option - although there's nothing wrong with slipping their address on the list for the location of the speed trailer for a week or two. Parking it in school zones was getting predictable anyway.


Make hay while the sun shines and book another couple of days leave while the boss is away and you can fool the acting manager into signing off on it. Use the money that you saved from not chipping in to that leaving present for a couple of tasty and longish lunches.


With Mercury, the planet of communication, driving you this month, it's time to punch out as many bland and lifeless media releases as you can. Set yourself a challenge and see if you can crack triple figures on the word count before using the words 'enhance' or 'community' (obviously quotes from the Mayor are exempt).


It's been a while since the long lunch-sick day-late start triple combo, and this is the month to rectify it! With Mars finally switching gear, it's the perfect time to relax and treat yourself to the odd extended 'site visit' or two.


If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why you have yet to achieve your full potential in the Fantasy Football league, that word would be 'meetings'. Plan ahead and schedule as many as you can for 31st April to prevent your ranking from serious slippage.


When faced with redefining the success of a failed project, never, ever forget that procedure is everything.


Awkward misunderstandings from the Christmas Party and a silly tiff arising from an inopportune office prank are cleared up without too much fuss mid-month with the direct movement of Saturn into your relationship zone. With the work experience student due to start, don't be shy about getting him to take the lead on attending to customer service enquiries.


I still don't know any bureaucrats who are Pisces. They're all enablers.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Placemaking power salute: More greenery in the West End

It's been a little while since my last placemaking power salute, so I thought it was about time another one was issued.

As per usual I've been a little slow on the uptake and have taken for granted the introduction of some more greenery onto High Street:

It just goes to show what some well placed greenery can do to soften and improve the worst kind of street frontage. A couple weeks ago as we walked to Breaks in search of some breakfast, even Byron, my five year old nephew who was fixated on getting some ice cream, stopped to admire this little oasis of greenery. Pretty cool.

So without further ado: [placemaking power salute]

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Confessions of a traffic engineer: Is the need for speed killing us?

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

I'll cut to the chase. Placemaking champion, Fred Kent, from the Project for Public
Spaces, says it far better than I could ever do:

"If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places."  

"It is not true that more traffic and road capacity are the inevitable results of growth. They are in fact the products of very deliberate choices that have been made to shape our communities to accommodate the private automobile. We have the ability to make different choices — starting with the decision to design our streets as
comfortable and safe places — for people on foot, not people in cars."

This post is about priorities and the choices we make. Our priorities say a lot about who we are as individuals and as a society. Fred Kent highlights in flashing lights the choice we have all made (whether we know or not) to design our cities around cars.

Charles Marohn, a self-confessed recovering traffic engineer (love that description), reveals the priorities of his former profession on his Strongtowns blog (click here). Charles reckons that engineers have a very unhealthy need for speed. His insights make for interesting and powerful reading and I thought that I’d share some of his confessions with Freo Doctor readers.

(I’ve italicised quotes from the article below.)

The Priorities of a Traffic Engineer

“An engineer designing a street or road prioritizes the world in this way, no matter how they are instructed:

1.         Traffic speed;
2.         Traffic volume;
3.         Safety;
4.         Cost.

The rest of the world generally would prioritize things differently, as follows:

1.         Safety;
2.         Cost;
3.         Traffic volume;
4.         Traffic speed.

In other words, the engineer first assumes that all traffic must travel at speed. Given that speed, all roads and streets are then designed to handle a projected volume. Once those parameters are set, only then does an engineer look at mitigating for safety and, finally, how to reduce the overall cost (which at that point is nearly always ridiculously expensive).

We go to enormous expense to save ourselves small increments of driving time.”

Jeez, talk about misplaced priorities. In another article (click here), Marohn explains that a 40 second reduction in his typical commute time costs his community $107,000!

I value my time, but for me safety is more of a priority. I reckon that our schools, hospitals and community services would be more than grateful to receive an increase in funding at the expense of saving a few minutes of commuting time.

Blame It On The Romans

Where does this need for speed come from?  Looks like it has something to do with the Ancient Romans:

“Some of our craft descends from Roman engineers who did all of this a couple of millennia ago. How could I be wrong with literally thousands of years of professional practice on my side? Of course the people who wrote the standards knew better than we did. That is why they wrote the standard.

When people would tell me that they did not want a wider street, I would tell them that they had to have it for safety reasons.

When they answered that a wider street would make people drive faster and that would be seem to be less safe, especially in front of their house where their kids were playing, I would confidently tell them that the wider road was more safe, especially when combined with the other safety enhancements the standards called for.

When people objected to those other "enhancements", like removing all of the trees near the road, I told them that for safety reasons we needed to improve the sight distances and ensure that the recovery zone was free of obstacles.

In retrospect I understand that this was utter insanity. Wider, faster, treeless roads not only ruin our public places, they kill people. Taking highway standards and applying them to urban and suburban streets, and even county roads, costs us thousands of lives every year. There is no earthly reason why an engineer would ever design a fourteen foot lane for a city block, yet we do it continuously. Why? The answer is utterly shameful: Because that is the standard.”

The need for speed could be killing us! Serious stuff.

What Does This All Mean for Perth?

With Charles’ confessions in mind, let’s check out some streets in Perth and ask ourselves which one a motorist is more likely to speed along.

Case study 1

Photo A

Photo B
Photo A is the obvious culprit. As a wide, treeless road, it has been designed with little other than speed in mind. Our collective priorities are clearly evident to anyone who wants to notice them.

On the other hand I wouldn’t be speeding (if I were to hypothetically do such a thing ...) along the more intimate, little street shown in Photo B. Why? For me, it’s the uncertainty. The street isn’t wide and the parked cars have the effect of making it even less open. If I’m uncertain, I wouldn't throw caution to the wind and put my foot down. It could be dangerous.

Case study 2

Photo A

Photo B
This case study compares different views of the same place - Scarborough Beach Road in Mount Hawthorn. The photos have been taken about 100 metres apart looking in different directions.

As in the first case study, Photo A is the obvious culprit for encouraging motorists to speed. Wide lanes. No trees. No people. Driving along this part of the road, it’s difficult for any motorists to do anything but speed.

Photo B presents differently. The road is not as wide. There is definitely more going on that could make a motorist feel uncertain. Speeding on this part of Scarborough Beach Road is not only less likely, but something I never witnessed on dozens of visits as a nearby resident.


Thinking about Scarborough Beach Road with Charles Marohn’s and Fred Kent’s words in mind, I’m convinced that they’re onto something. Speed must not be the priority when we design our roads and, if we plan for cars, then traffic is what we’ll get (and what we'll deserve).

Hugh Newell Jacobsen said it brilliantly way back in 1929 - “When you look at a city, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it”. In other words, it's our collective priorities that we see before us every day.

If I was to take Hugh Newell Jacobsen for a stroll along Scarborough Beach Road, I would ask him what he would read into our hopes, aspirations and pride of our city. I’d also ask him what he thought our community valued most. People or cars?

I don’t think I’d be surprised by his answers. I think it’s time to change our priorities.
Before I go, I'll leave Freo Doctor Blog readers with some sobering stats:

- Australian road toll in 2012: 1,300 people. (Click here to go to the document.)

- Australia has one of the highest urban speed limits in the world. A reduction of 10 km/h in travel speed would prevent 50% of all pedestrian fatalities and 21% of all collisions. (Click here to go to the document.)

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Heads up, Freo cafes: Poor customer service isn't cool

I've spent the last couple of days enjoying my birthday festival. It basically involves celebrating the two days either side of my actual birthday in an attempt to be excused from doing household chores (except cooking, for reasons of self-preservation).

On Sunday my wife's family made the trip down to Freo so that we could catch up over breakfast and celebrate the last day of my birthday festival. We left our apartment building and headed to Market Street discussing our many breakfast options. The only prerequisite was that ice cream be on the menu (Byron's input), and a faint but forlorn hope that we might find somewhere with air conditioning.

Option 1: Simple Nosh (on Norfolk Street, near Luna Cinemas)

Simple Nosh's smoothies had come highly recommended by a good friend so we headed off to Norfolk Street to try them out. Upon arrival we trudged around looking for seating for six, but despite plenty of floor space all the tables were set up in configurations of four and two.

We approached a member of staff about the possibility of having two tables pushed together. After vague assent, she promptly disappeared and wasn't seen again. 

After quieting a rapidly overheating nephew by plugging his mouth with a lollipop, we asked a second waitress if we could combine a table with the one we were sitting at. She responded by telling us with a marked lack of enthusiasm that no, that wasn't possible as there were no tables free - apparently the effort of turning her head 180 degrees to an empty table two metres away was too much on a hot Sunday morning.

With my wife showing signs of being on the verge of grasping the waitress firmly by an earlobe and marching her to the empty table for a lesson in furniture identification, the rest of the family wisely decided that if Simple Nosh simply did not want our money, we'd better just leave them to it. 

Option 2: X-Wray Cafe (near Luna Cinemas)
Due to its proximity to Simple Nosh, X-Wray presented as the next logical option for our group. It's been my experience that the food can be hit and miss (I gave up ordering eggs benedict because the hollandaise sauce was always curdled) but I've always enjoyed a friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic service at this cafe.

We sauntered into X-Wray and, after assessing the relative temperatures inside and out, grabbed one of the booths. It was still hot, but not quite as hot as the tables outside. Unfortunately for X-Wray the concrete laneway it sits next to acts as a bit of a heatrap. No sooner had I sat down than I was sweating profusely, and Byron was doing his best impersonation of a five year old in the last stages of heat exhaustion. 

The fan above our booth wasn't switched on, so we asked if it could be turned on, only to be told it wasn't working. My father-in-law then spotted an air conditioning unit near our booth. So, to the sound of weak laments from Byron pleading for a life saving ice cream, he went down to the counter to ask if it could be switched on.

This was happily agreed to, but five minutes later it still hadn't been turned on. So my father-in-law got up and went to the counter to find out again about the air conditioning. This time he was told that they couldn't turn it on, with vague references being made to lost or broken remote controls. He returned to our table and passed on the news. 

It's not X-Wray's fault that both the fan and air con were out of order, of course, although given the layer of dust on both one wonders whether this is a longstanding issue. But why had nobody had bothered to come over and tell us and explain?

Increasingly hot and disillusioned, we decided to move on.

Option 3: Il Cibo (on Market Street opposite Pioneer Park, near the train station)

Fifteen minutes later and after a brief diversion to Breaks (who had air conditioning but were full, no doubt for that very reason) we trudged into Il Cibo.

The wait staff were friendly. They actually greeted us with a cheery hello and a smile as we entered, which didn't happen at Simple Nosh, X-Wray or Breaks. Upon greeting us and seeing the size of our group, the waiter (who bore a remarkable resemblance to both former Chelsea star Gianfranco Zola and, according to my excited mother-in-law, Inspector Montalbano) immediately took the initiative and showed us some tables where we could sit, in comfort and coolness thanks to the functioning air con. This was good.

We sat down and noticed the friendliness and enthusiasm surrounding us. There were singles, couples, and families, all looking content and chattering happily. I immediately remarked to my wife that we should return to Il Cibo more often. The music wasn't too loud and added to the happy atmosphere. Byron was smiling from ear to ear as a scoop of vanilla icecream that he had ordered off the menu promptly arrived with a friendly flourish from the waiter. The food turned out to be tasty, too, and we lingered there for a long while after it was gone, just enjoying ourselves.

My father-in-law commented that in tough times, it is the level of customer service that helps to establish a point of difference for cafes and retailers. I have no doubt in my mind that Il Cibo has created its own point of difference for my father-in-law and that he'll be insisting that Il Cibo is our first option on future visits to Freo for breakfast. 

On this blog, I've talked about the importance of creating memorable experiences for people and having welcoming places. My wife's family did not have a memorable experience (well, not in a good way), nor were we made to feel welcome on Sunday morning. I felt embarrassed about Freo's businesses when my wife and I returned to our apartment. When will Freo's businesses learn that poor or indifferent customer service just is not cool?

And is business really that great in Freo that cafes need make so little effort? Somehow, I don't think so.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Much to do about nothing: A survey about amalgamation

Firstly, a little bit of fun because I couldn't help it and I begged and begged my wife to let me. (I hope Freo Doctor Blog readers know that as a result of my begging I've been forced to begin an exercise program that involves me jogging down to South Beach with my wife cycling by my side. The sacrifices I go through. She said she'd dangle a piece of prosciutto in front of me, so it's not all bad though.)

So how did Fremantle Council end up deciding to survey us all about amalgamation recently?

a) Back in mid-November, Councillor Wilson anticipated that I would suffer a debilitating bout of cruiselag after returning to Freo at the end of my cruise. He thought that he'd do his bit and provide this mild mannered blogger with something to get scribbling about. (There's a seriously awesome power salute coming your way, Councillor Wilson.)

b) In November, and after watching Field of Dreams, Councillor Wilson went to bed and had a strange dream - the Premier beckoning him with calls of "survey them, survey them, I'm really interested to see what they think about amalgamation; there's a state election coming up and if I win I'll claim a mandate, plus it's not Council's decision to make, but what the hey, go ahead and survey them anyway. I could do with a laugh." Councillor Wilson immediately woke up and dotted down the wording for the resolution, ignoring a lingering question as to why he'd been dreaming about Colin Barnett.

c) Councillor Wilson read my awesome blog post about amalgamation earlier this year (click here) and secretly resolved then and there that come December he'd do his darndest to provide a stellar example of why amalgamation really should go ahead. (Sorry, Councillor Wilson, but the City's continued inaction on the Bathers Beach dustbowl, following complaints from local businesses and residents, beats you to the punch.)

d) Thwaites and Wilberforce are back?


Now for the serious stuff:

The sense of community argument

The misconception: Without smaller local governments people's sense of community will wither and die.

The reality: It won't. A sense of community relies on the people, not a bureaucratic organisation. 

I used to passionately believe in retaining the small sizes of our local government areas in Perth. I suppose I had fallen for the whole 'small is better' argument. I also bought too much into the notion that a bureaucratic organisation, such as a local government authority, can play in creating and fostering community. Then we moved to Fremantle, where smaller is definitely not better and the people create the community.

If Perth, like Brisbane, was made up of only one local government, would Fremantle's history disappear? No. Would Freoites no longer get that awesome feeling of coming home when the port's cranes become visible? Nope. Would all of Freo's many and varied community groups stop meeting and gathering? Can't see it happening. Is there no sense of community in Brisbane? I wouldn't bet on it. So what makes local government around Perth, and in particular Fremantle, so much better than their counterparts in Brisbane, or Paris, or New York?

The Hulbert Street Sustainability Fiesta has emerged as a classic example of Freo's awesome sense of community in recent years. It is successfully run and managed. It continues to grow. Was it the brainchild of a bureaucrat or a resident? A resident. Has it been run by a bureaucracy or by locals? Locals of course.

Nope, smallish local governments don't have a mortgage over community building.

The smaller is better argument

The misconception: Smaller local governments are best positioned to deliver on people's more demanding expectations.

The truth: Show me the money! It is simply not going to happen with under resourced and top heavy small local governments.

Historically speaking local governments have specialised in operations. 'Rates, roads and rubbish' is the old catch cry that some people use to describe the traditional function of a local government. It served small local governments really well for a really long time.

Things have changed though. Expectations have shifted, quickly and dramatically. In 2012, local government is way more than just the three R's and I'm not entirely convinced that smaller local govies can meet expectations.

Take bike infrastructure: Granted the City has made a significant investment in cycling infrastructure over the past couple of years, but it's a drop in the ocean. People's expectations about living in a bike-friendly city are exponentially increasing. I read of well funded and resourced cities in the United States and Europe who have delivered oodles and oodles of bike lanes over the past four years.

And that gets me onto public transport investment: Imagine you're the Premier in 2013 and you've decided to invest in a massive public transport programme for Perth. Now put your hand up if you want to deal with thirty two - that's right, thirty two - local government authorities complete with all those hundreds of Councillors? Not me.
Nope, I'm not buying this argument either. Me, I want to live in a city where my local government is well funded and resourced. It isn't top heavy. It has the capacity to carry out its operational aspects (the three R's), implement its own projects without relying on consultants, and deliver quality infrastructure.


Without smaller local governments people's sense of community will not wither and die. A sense of community relies on the people, not a bureaucratic organisation. People's expectations of their local government authority are changing. These expectations will only become more difficult to satisfy if local authorities are under resourced and top heavy.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Freo Quick Shot: Crepes, cops and closing down sales

After an outing to a Parisian bistro with a menu exclusively en Francais resulted in my wife coming eye-to-eye with a steaming hunk of marrowbone (with sinew still attached), she became very attached eating out at the street side creperies. Lemon and sugar were generally the favourite. She would watch the cooks eagle-eyed as they assembled the ingredients, ready to squawk "Mais non!" if their hands hovered over anything other than fruit.

So we were both excited to see that a new creperie has opened in the High Street mall, a couple of shops down from Culley's. This weekend we snarfed down some crepes from the Paris Crepes Cafe. They were delicious and very well priced, and hearing the proprietors converse to each other in French while we ate was a bonus. My wife and I will be back for many more tasty crepes. What a great addition to the High Street mall!

This weekend, we were also were chuffed to see a couple of police walking the beat around Freo. We were especially glad to see them around the eastern part of the city centre. It makes such a difference to see police walking the beat, rather than cruising past in a car, especially during the day and in those parts of the city that are hotspots. I hope it isn't a one off.

Finally, my wife couldn't help herself from checking out the last day of Myer's closing down sale. I tagged along with her yesterday to see what the excitement was all about. Walking into the department store felt like being transported to 1980's Russia - vast empty spaces, swarms of people picking over two or three shelves of remainders. It was a little weird.

I'm sad that Myer is shutting up shop in Freo. My wife and I wheeled our first LCD television from Myer to our apartment on a trolley they lent us. I also went through a phase of hogging the massage chairs every Saturday afternoon following 
a tough game of basketball during the week. Now I'll have to pay for my massages.

I suppose I'm sad because for me, Myer has always been in Freo. I know that its closure was inevitable. It was badly run and it always seemed to be short-staffed. The place was in dire need of an internal refit and don't get me started on the outside of the building. Still, it won't be the same. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

The cruise post aka what I learnt about placemaking from eighteen nights eating myself senseless

The prospect of my first cruise was exciting on many levels. As a placemaking nerd, I was looking forward to checking out the cruise ship that we would soon be boarding. As a closet fan of 'The Love Boat' (thanks mum), I was thrilled to be spending eighteen nights cruising the high seas with, if television could be believed, a mix of fellow passengers who were either having problems with their love life or getting into amusing scrapes (but all devoted to eighties hairstyles). And as someone who enjoys the odd meal or two, I approached the Fremantle Passenger Terminal in a mood of quiet determination, steelily focused on the mission at hand: eating Princess Cruises into insolvency.

Now that I'm over my cruiselag, I thought that I'd share some of my thoughts about our cruise.

Placemaking on the high seas

1. Food

Placemaking legend William H. Whyte once wrote: "If you want to seed a place with activity put out food." Never a truer word has been spoken.

So, in honour of Whyte, I felt that I really did owe it to placemakers around the world to become intimate with the various dining opportunities around the ship. (The sacrifices I go through for Freo Doctor Blog readers.) Sitting at my usual spot at the buffet, I enjoyed watching the social exchanges that food encourages amongst people.

I discovered that not only does food indeed help foster activity, but it is pretty cool how easily it acts as a social lubricant. Groups of people just like hanging out together and shooting the breeze over food.

2. Memorable experiences

Another placemaker, David Engwicht, firmly believes in the importance of creating memorable experiences for people. I can see his point. Why would people return to a place if their visit wasn't memorable?

Our experience was made more memorable by immaculate customer service. It was so good that it kind of started to freak me out a little bit. That wouldn't come as a surprise to fellow Perth residents who have had to endure good, old fashioned customer service, Perth-style. The "I'm going to make you regret handing over your hard earned cash by making your experience in my shop/cafe/restaurant as pleasant as attending a Council meeting" type.

That wasn't the case aboard our ship. The waiters were efficient, friendly and sincere. They actually seemed to enjoy their jobs, and more to the point were extraordinarily good at them.

The Crooners Bar became our favourite place to hang out. Why? The bar staff. They made us feel welcome. Simple as Carlos, the bartender, took me under his wing when I told him he made a mean cocktail. After our second visit, we were made to feel like regulars by the bar staff - whereas I could name several places in Freo where waitstaff still pretend not to recognise me after four years of tri-weekly visits. On the ship, the choice to return was made easy for my wife and me.

3. Programme of activities

The good placemakers at Project for Public Spaces believe that the more activities that are going on and that people have an opportunity to participate in, the better.

Fred Kent would have been impressed with what was going on on our ship. Each day was crammed full of different activities. From our vantage point sitting on a comfy chair and sipping on one of Carlos' tasty martinis at Crooners, my wife and I would watch the other passengers going from one activity to another.

Trivia games, art auctions, table tennis competitions, wine tasting, singing classes - you name it, there was probably an activity for it. All the activities got me thinking about how programming was an important tool in the cruise ship's placemaking arsenal. It felt like that there was something for anyone to be enjoying on the ship at any time of the day. (For me, it generally involved laying around doing nothing, although I did attend a wine tasting class.)

4. Adaptive uses

Another thing that I'm certain would have earned two placemaking thumbs up from Fred Kent was how the ship made use of its places during the day and evening.

For example, Crooners, our martini bar, operated as a cafe during the day. Cafe Corniche (the Italian themed restaurant) functioned as a space for people to sit with friends and to socialise when it wasn't operating. The Champagne Bar doubled as a mini-piazza during the day when it was closed. Much to the chagrin of the Arts Director, the Wheelhouse Bar (a British themed pub) hosted the art auctions.

These spaces were used as much as possible. I got the feeling that the goal was to provide as many options for people as possible to use a space to gather, socialise and to have fun.

5. Lots of people helps with placemaking

Our ship had 1,950 passengers. That's more than double the number of residents living in Freo's city centre. I can't recall feeling like the ship was overcrowded. (Although there were really long lines outside the Bingo events.) As experienced people-watchers my wife and I enjoyed the hustle and bustle around the ship.

For me, the number of people on board helped to inject the ship with a life of its own. Busy restaurants and bars, active spaces during the day, people lounging around and people walking from activity to activity imbedded a real sense of vibrancy.

This sense of life and vibrancy isn't quite matched by Freo these days. I don't expect it to be, given the parameters of our ship compared to our city. Eight hundred and fifty odd residents in our city centre isn't good enough. Such a low population means that we've got to work that much harder to make our placemaking efforts succeed.

Dare I say it: More people living and working in Freo's city centre...full steam ahead!

6. You're never finished

One of the placemaking  principles espoused by Project for Public Spaces is that placemaking is ongoing. I must be a slow learner, but I didn't have that epiphany until seeing it in action on the cruise. Day in day out and night in night out the placemaking didn't stop and it was consistently awesome. One thing that I learnt is that placemaking isn't a one and done, flash in the pan type of project. It's all about turning up and emptying the bins, cleaning the footpaths, replacing dodgy bollards every single day.


That's about it for now folks. Six things I learnt from placemaking on the high seas: Food; memorable experiences; programme of activities; adaptive uses; lots of people help with placemaking; and you're never finished.

After our cruise, my wife and I spent some time in Sydney (at The Rocks) and in Melbourne. Look out for another holiday inspired post about our experiences in these cities soon.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bureauscopes: Horoscopes for bureaucrats

The other day while sitting in a cold bath and playing on my iPad (not a euphemism), I came across an image from a magazine from India called ‘Bureaucracy Today’ via twitter. The image was of a monthly horoscope, tailored to bureaucrats, and at that moment I realised what had been missing in my professional life up till now.

All the horoscope needed to be perfect was the introduction of a slightly Australian flavour, as the working life of bureaucrats in India seems to be comparatively short on such Aussie office essentials as the long lunch, the sickie, and organising your AFL Dream Team.

So if you're fortunate enough to be in the business of bureaucracy, here's a taste of what you can expect from the month ahead.


With Jupiter rising in the first fortnight of January, you may find your will being tested. In the face of adversity, it is important to keep a cool head. Practice some yoga breathing and take the phone off the hook for an hour or two. Generously offer to buy the IT guys lunch so that the network mysteriously goes on the blink for a few days. Tell your manager you're off to archives for a file and instead use the day and a half to sneak out the back door and take advantage of the summer movie scene. Above all, be good to yourself. You deserve it.


The first month of the year should be a case of making hay while the sun shines. January is a great time for Taureans to tackle organisational challenges head-on. Organise a series of office cricket matches, set up your office pranks schedule, update your Excuses and Stalls folder and, most importantly, get a head start on your AFL Dream Team preparations.


Pizza or sub? Decisions, decisions, decisions. You will have to think hard about where you spend your long lunches this month. Don’t be a paragon of self-control though, as January will be the month for acting on impulse. You will do well to follow your heart (and your gut). Why not see where it leads?


Planets indicate an excellent month for you is on the cards for January. A financial windfall can be expected in the form of some higher duties pay after your boss tries to get three reports up for a single meeting. Young bureaucrats being tempted by such concepts as innovation will need to be under supervision towards the end of the month.


Pave the way for a week of sick leave at month's end to avoid a confrontation with a hysterical resident whose view from the bathroom windowis about to be impeded by a neighbour's renovations. Book an appointment with the WALGA counsellor in your junior's name for next month. He's going to need it.


Jupiter is rising in your sign around the 15th, which means you should postpone asking for that extra week of leave till later in the month. Avoid chipping in to any leaving presents if the person is entering private enterprise - they'll be back in six weeks.


Mars and Venus will align in the first week of the month, suggesting amalgamation is on the cards. But do a survey anyway. Ignore critics who say it's a pointless political gesture and a waste of money so close to the state election. Everybody loves a survey.


You are at the peak of your bureaucratic powers. Your foresight in arranging for 98 per cent of the City’s projects to go through community consultation during this month while ratepayers are on holiday could mean you should expect a promotion in the near future. To really be ahead of the pack, draft the Council reports for these projects before consultation ends to expedite the process.


Meetings are a practical alternative to work. Remember this and the month of January will sail smoothly by.


Stick doggedly to your guns in the face of a failing project. If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success. And then redefine it again. Why stop there? Come on... redefine it again.


Planets indicate a difficult month ahead for you. Pesky politicians having the temerity to request work from you; sexual harassment allegations arise from your Christmas Party antics; and, worst of all, a new work experience student means one thing: maintain a low profile.


I don't know any bureaucrats who are Pisces. They're all enablers.