It’s the people, stupid

• Emma Williamson

NEW YORK and Fremantle: both victims of their own successes.

Artists, musicians, bohemians, immigrants and everyday people gave these cities their culture, soul and vibrancy.

Their popularity drove gentrification; in turn driving them out.

But some New Yorkers weren’t having it.

Artists’ collectives, actors’ funds, charities, government agencies, even banks and developers joined forces to create affordable housing in the hearts of these neighbourhoods.

Places such as El Barrio’s Artspace, the Dorothy Ross Friedman Residence, The Schermerhorn and Manhattan Plaza (‘Broadway’s Bedroom’) provide accommodation to thousands of performers, artists and musicians who have a fraction of the surrounding median income.

Fremantle must do the same according to architect Emma Williamson, co-founder of The Fulcrum Agency based in Fremantle.

Ms Williamson said a much bigger residential population is needed in the heart of Fremantle to sustain and support a vibrant city and help diversify the local economy.

“It’s really about looking for the levers that can encourage activation and a dramatic increase in the resident population,” she said.

Those levers according to Ms Williamson include social and low-income housing, subsidised housing for artists and performers, limits on short-term accommodation and mechanisms to ensure buildings are not left empty when there is a clear demand for accommodation.

“There is kind of a legacy issue in Fremantle where a number of entities own multiple properties and they’re not inspired to do them up or have them activated,” she said.


“So it creates these dead pockets in the city and I think there should be some mechanism like a shift in the way rates are charged when buildings are left empty.”

Ms Williamson pointed to the recent upgrade of the Manning Buildings on the High Street Mall as an example of what could be achieved with Fremantle’s historical assets.

The renovation of the building, which had been left unloved and uninspired for decades, is why Fremantle business owner and resident Rob Nathan moved his Australian Tenders business to the new office space.

“What Fremantle is missing, and has missed, is A-class office space,” he said.

“Most of the office space in Fremantle, up until recently, has been really B- or C-class, daggy, old office space that no-one wants to really live in and work.”

Mr Nathan, a tech entrepreneur and musician, moved to Fremantle five years ago, but still kept his business in Cottesloe.

When a large, modern office space became available, designed in sympathy with the history and culture of Fremantle, he moved his ten staff into the heart of the city.

Mr Nathan is also an angel investor and founded the Freo Startup Fest.

He said Fremantle was attractive to businesses, particularly those in marine and sustainability, and co-working spaces were growing in the city, but there were limits.

“I know of startups who had become part of the Fremantle startup ecosystem who have basically gone to Perth city because they can’t find the office space that they’re looking for in Fremantle,” he said.

“There’s lots of little bits and pieces of office in Fremantle, lots of stuff upstairs, and funny little locations, but if someone wanted to come and relocate their office with a hundred-odd people to Fremantle, their options would be relatively limited.”

Ms Williamson and Mr Nathan both pointed to the recent upgrade of FOMO at Walyalup Koort, the uptake in hospitality venues and construction of new apartment complexes as clear indications that Fremantle is again on the march, but the momentum had to be kept up.

Ms Williamson said Fremantle could keep pushing its tourism offerings while still increasing its residential base.

“As a tourist, you don’t actually want to just go to the key sites,” she said.

“I want to know where the locals want to go, I want to know where the good music is and so on. Those things are important.

“I also don’t think there’s a disconnect between providing for a thriving community (and tourism). I think that has direct flow-on effects to how we see tourism.”

Fremantle residents can have their say about the ‘Future of our City Centre’ by visiting

THE City of Fremantle is reviewing its Strategic Community Plan. Freelance journalist Ryan Emery has been talking to Fremantle residents and visitors about their thoughts on the city’s future. Today’s topic is ‘Future of our City Centre’. 

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