WA Heritage Council member and local resident ALAN KELSALL believes the key to Fremantle’s successful future lies in understanding its past.
WHEN considering the future of Fremantle, it needs to be remembered the city was established as the port town for Perth and for most of its history was a prosperous urban centre, acknowledged as the second city of the metropolitan area.
This history underscores the city’s distinct character and explains why its urban centre is recognisably different from the parts of Perth that were established as residential suburbs.
Fremantle is fortunate because its inherited urban qualities and heritage buildings have an authenticity that is not only rare in Perth, but also fulfils many people’s expectations of what an attractive, well-designed urban centre should be.
How people feel about a place can have a profound effect on whether it is successful.
So, while the city’s Strategic Plan needs to understand the challenges Fremantle faces, it also needs to appreciate the importance of the contribution Fremantle’s heritage makes to its cultural, social and economic life.
Good quality heritage places contribute to positive outcomes, such as demonstrating that conservation and sustainable economic growth can be complementary.
One of the ways of explaining these interdependencies and relationships is in terms of it being a mutually supportive, virtuous cycle: establishing heritage-inspired economic growth can generate prosperity, leading to a greater appreciation of the quality and worth of heritage buildings, thereby encouraging investment that secures not only the continued vitality of the city but also the continuing use and maintenance of historic buildings.
A key problem for Fremantle today is that it is no longer enlivened by the same level of social and economic optimism that once sustained its growth.
While character is often perceived as being a visual quality, it is not always recognised that appreciation of it is enriched by the essential dynamic social and economic activity that underpins it.
The loss of its former vibrant character has diminished Fremantle’s ability to function as intended and has caused an incremental deterioration in the quality of the public realm and less appreciation of the worth of its heritage buildings.
Fremantle’s historic environment is less likely to be conserved if there isn’t broad public support and understanding of its importance.
The review of the Strategic Community Plan provides an opportunity to use expert knowledge and skills to raise the community’s awareness and understanding of Fremantle’s strengths, including those that derive from its heritage.
The underlying aim should be to help everyone understand how and why Fremantle’s distinctive characteristics have evolved, and to then explain how these characteristics can be used to help shape strategies and priorities for achieving a sustainable future for the city.
This will help the community to refine and articulate the values it attaches to the city and its places.
Hopefully this encourages greater public participation in the conversations that will be part of the review.
Telling the story of how Fremantle evolved, becoming as it did an economically successful centre of trade, will be made easier when it is re-established as a successful urban centre.
This, of course, is on the proviso that the revitalisation is guided by good urban design.
While history shows that Fremantle has always changed and evolved, it is obvious that many decisions of the recent past produced neither the types of places intended nor the economic outcomes that were predicted.
They did, however, cause the loss of places that this and future generations would have valued.
In part these mistakes are due to decisions being guided by poor urban design theories that ignored useful lessons of history that hold true today.
At the core of good urban design is the realisation that successful places tend to have characteristics in common and design tends to bring a sense of long-term perspective to decisions regarding change and, although not encouraging imitation, it does offer a sound basis on which the 21st century can make its own distinct and high-quality contribution to places of enduring value.
Fremantle’s rich and diverse urban heritage should not be seen as a constraint; it should be celebrated and appreciated for its benefits.
Conservation is a matter of ensuring that the qualities that define a place are maintained while change continues to happen.
Allowing Fremantle to grow true to its port city character, which includes re-establishing the diverse values that made it successful, will provide the vision for the long-term sustainable regeneration of Fremantle.
The social, environmental and economic benefits linked to this vision depend on a broad-based consensus and long-term commitment to it, not only from the WA Government and the City of Fremantle but also from the people who know and understand the area intimately, namely the building owners, the businesses and the institutions, and the people who live and work here.
This won’t be achieved without a concerted effort to disregard pressure for change based simply on copying what other places have done; that could alter the urban character that made Fremantle successful and uniquely attractive.
It is only by all sides working together and being prepared to adapt and seek pragmatic and creative solutions that we can succeed in balancing the needs and benefits of sustainable development with the needs and benefits of heritage conservation.
Let’s Talk, Freo
The City of Fremantle is undergoing a major review of its Strategic Community Plan and
is encouraging the community to join the conversation.
‘Let’s Talk, Freo’ encourages residents, visitors and all people with a passion for Fremantle to have their say across a range of important issues affecting the city’s future.
The Plan is the City’s future blueprint and provides an overarching outline of priorities, aspirations and expectations over a 10-year period.
Future of our city centre is just one of the themes being explored.