Fremantle needs regeneration

COLIN NICHOL reflects on Fremantle’s current condition and finds it wanting.

AS central Fremantle becomes more bedraggled, downmarket and unwelcoming, the port’s major attractions continue to jump ship and businesses set sail, the cargo-cult mentality at Town Hall maintains parachuting-in a couple of hotels and a building full of public servants will trigger a domino-like effect to save the future.

These projects, and some new apartments, are to be burdened with the mission of reviving the city.

It is to be fervently hoped that will eventually prove to be the case but ongoing evidence does not support this vision and, anyway, those alone are not sufficient to achieve the goal.

It is the present most are concerned about. The wait has been too long and visions and predictions are for saints and prophets; reality requires pragmatism and practicality and years of disingenuous protestations that all will soon be well, now demand demonstrable proof.

Generally discussed observations on the city’s condition are not positive, and while Town Hall will claim negativity equals wrong thinking, the CBD is not generally improving and, in a world requiring constant augmentation, is therefore going backwards.

Larger hotels now in prospect will be self-sufficient, which is their purpose; they are not in business to help others.

Their cafes, restaurants and bars will compete vigorously with those already established around town, but proliferation of those is the only noticeable business growth sector.

Ill-will pervades recent departures from Fremantle of major attractions, the current controversy over the imminent exit of the Fly By Night Club from the Drill Hall being just the latest.

The Film and television Institute (FTI) will not return to the old Boys School building, Harbour Theatre has moved to Mosman Park, followed by Kulcha and some music groups; Mutima Art House and Studio has closed, FotoFreo is long-gone as are the Light and Sound Discovery Centre, the History Museum and Deckchair Theatre. Bizircus and the Dockers are waving goodbye.

One clumsy attempt at much-needed proactivity, to create an arts hub at Arthur Head, has generated distress and interference to the proven and successful operators there of more than 20 years and resulted in two, probably soon four, empty premises.

On the quay the vintage cars have gone while back in the city, for various reasons more than 50 retailers have left.

The possible shipping into Kings Square of several hundred new workers in an indefinite number of years’ time, still unconfirmed, is too distant to factor into calculations for a timely uplifting of Fremantle’s heart.

In any case, a new civic centre of potentially alienating corporate-style buildings fronting the square is likely, as presently presented, to evolve into a conclave quite separate from and uninvolved with, the main character activity areas, especially so while awaiting the much later completion of the masterplan linking it with the railway station and port. It risks isolation.

Waiting for salvation to fall from the skies is to allow delay to advance decay and time is fritting away.

The “activation” and “revitalisation” the council declares Fremantle needs is not just for the streets, it is more immediately needed at Town Hall itself. There has been some thinking and small moves in the right direction, but so far insufficiently dramatic to arrest, counterpoise and reverse decline. The word should now be “regeneration”.

It is apocryphally true that promoting to families and children will mainly sell ice-cream; demographically focussed marketing is restrictive, the wide general public must be the target—anyone with a dollar in their pocket, while marketing to those already in the city is preaching to the converted and wasteful.

There are at least two levels to everything and while sights may be set on high-rise, results must be achieved and seen in the streets, at eye-level. Current mono-vision, the hedgehog knowing “one big thing” of Archilochus’ Hedgehog and Fox, is limiting and cannot alone resolve the situation.

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