Worth fighting for

15. 32THINKCOLIN NICHOL is a long-time blogger, writer and former portsider who is passionate about the future direction of Fremantle. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED he says despite council mergers looming on the horizon there is still time for Fremantle to turn around its flagging fortunes.

Whatever shape and size of future councils may result from the current amalgamation apoplexia, one thing is consistent: change will not occur until mid-2015 and therein lies the crucial factor in shaping Fremantle’s future.

There is time, some 22 months, to strengthen the city, in addition to looming council election between now and then. A new reality is knocking on Fremantle’s door.

The resolve and abilities of the current and a new council, working with all agencies to most effectively use that asset of time to prepare the city for any and all of possible futures, is the challenge it must meet with centrally directed focus.

Dreamantle

There is not room now for dreaming of a return to past high days, nor is there much currency in visions of a hypothetical future Dreamantle. The City of Fremantle is coming from behind in dealing with the merger issue and rating at 15 in the performance graph of metropolitan councils when major neighbours are well ahead, should represent a challenge to make greater efforts.

Funding has been allocated to provision of a new council administration building.

At least one other council has considered staying its plan for the same and Fremantle must also be asking if that is now an appropriate use of funds, a tragedy of the commons should not occur; as matters stand, construction may well not even begin before amalgamation.

It is what goes on inside the building that counts and is the measure by which the city is judged.

One major power the city has largely resiled from exploiting effectively is that of overall management and coordination. A shopping centre-style approach to what is after all, a compact city centre, should be adopted. There is just enough time left to gather into focus all forces and current committees and forge unified thought and effort to influence oncoming mergers and deal with the inevitable consequences of them. That famous Boy Scout motto applies.

The losses to Fremantle’s substance in recent years are too many, too well known and too badly missed to reiterate, the bleeding must be staunched if the patient is to survive. Consolidation of what is still there and searching for more and creating the right conditions for arts, artisans and culture is a priority, just at a time when external funding sources may be more uncertain than before. There being less than two years to go only invites reflection upon how much time has been lost, but it can never be too late for foresight and prioritisation, while rhetoric and activity are no substitute for action.

Drab and grey

Infrastructure and streetscapes are a continuing negative for the CBD and past mistakes have left the city with a drab and grey appearance. Intersections are uninteresting, signage is still not good while there is an excess of posts and poles.

Enough attention has already been drawn to the appearances of many buildings and shopfronts; the central city looks colourful in pictures, on TV and videos and present well, but does not always match up in reality. The product must “sell” or “work for” itself.

CBD retail is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem and is not unique. For some time an organic change has been occurring, and the future now lies in markets-style traders, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars and short-term “pop-up shops” which may influence for more competitive rents elsewhere; new major retail is currently not in view.

With those, and with the festivals of this celebration city along with present and future family entertainments, notably the forthcoming youth plaza, the shape into which the city is being moulded is evident: it becoming an historic seaside resort. Colour, movement, lights, music, fun, quirkiness should become themes with an underground of music, theatre, comedy.

Marketing should turn about the unfortunate word-of-mouth reputation the city is garnering by accentuating “friendly Fremantle”, using traditional outlets as well as digital, which won’t do it all—and not presented as a series of attractions, a number of parcels, but as a whole package.

Fremantle Markets, for example is not in Fremantle but part of it, just as is Shipwreck Galleries and so on. Fishing Boat Harbour and the creative precinct of Arthur Head are part of the overall Fremantle experience and the seafront should be brought closer to the city centre. Businesses of all kinds are part of the mix.

Blame-shifting

It is self-contradictory and to a degree blame-shifting, to simultaneously appreciate preservation of city heritage, while complaining an anti-development lobby holds Fremantle back. Today, that very preservation of the old city is its greatest asset and largely the reason development is attractive. Vitally though, that must be sensitive to the area in which it occurs.

The wonder of Fremantle is that everyone, it seems, has a relationship with “our Fremantle”; its impact is greater than its size. Fremantle is an adjective as well as a verb, a description within a name.

Many aspects of that will remain no matter what future influences may prevail, the essence of the city will persist, embedded in its stones, while Fremantle now awaits its re-awakening.

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