Transformative Moves – how Fremantle is turning itself around

This feature article was written for the May edition of the Committee for Perth’s Insight e-newsletter.

There comes a point in the life of many a city when, after a long period of slow decline, it becomes clear that the business as usual approach is not going to arrest its declining fortunes. Instead some bold action is required.
Fremantle reached that point a couple of years ago as a result of its population stagnating, its retail and commercial floor space declining, its retail and employment diversity shrinking – all in the context of an otherwise booming WA economy.
It became clear to many of us in Fremantle that the level of change necessary wasn’t going to be achieved through some minor adjustments but instead needed to be brought about by a strong vision matched by some
transformational moves – bold changes which will unlock the potential of the city as a vibrant and sustainable urban centre.
As a result Fremantle has embarked on what are likely to be the biggest changes to its CBD since the 1987 Americas Cup. At the heart of this are four transformational moves:
The first – and perhaps most controversial – transformational move was to increase building heights and densities in the Fremantle CBD from what was previously 2-5 floors to 6-10 floors in the non-heritage parts of the city which included sites such as Myer, Target, Westgate Mall, and Coles Woolstores Shopping Centre. This extra height and density will enable Fremantle to more than quadruple the number of people living in the Fremantle CBD. At the moment only around 800 people live in central Fremantle. More people in the centre of Fremantle will make for both a safer and more vibrant centre. It will also enable high quality multi-storey office space to be built in the centre of Fremantle to encourage major commercial businesses back into Fremantle for the first time in decades.
The second transformational move will be to engage in a major public/private partnership to upgrade the Town Square, Kings Square and adjacent buildings (including Fremantle Town Hall Administration Centre, the Myer and Queensgate buildings). When completed, this redevelopment project will likely be the biggest single development project undertaken in Fremantle since the creation of the Fremantle Port itself.
The third transformational move will be to embed diverse and affordable housing provisions into all new developments in Fremantle. This includes allowing small, affordable dwellings on back blocks and a development requirement to ensure new multi-storey developments include at least 15% social housing in addition to a mandatory 25% allocation to small, more affordable apartments of 60m2 and less. These provisions will ensure the thousands of new residents moving into Fremantle come from a diverse range of income levels and enable artists and key workers such as teachers and nurses to live in Fremantle once again.
The fourth and final transformational move is investing in the transition to a low carbon city. WA currently has one of the biggest per capita carbon footprints in the developed world and we need to transform our cities to embrace a more sustainable future. As a result Fremantle is investing in large-scale renewable energy including solar, wind and geothermal. It is also ensuring that all new buildings are environmentally sustainable and linked with good public transport. Ultimately this is going to require embedding light rail into our planning but this is a transformative move that will require the support of the State Government not just Fremantle alone.
It is clear that successful cities of the 21st century are going to need to be very different to the successful cities of the 20th century. The path across the chasms of change can’t be achieved with small tentative steps. It is going to take some giant, transformational leaps. These transformational moves will create the opportunity to make our existing urban centres even better places for people with vibrancy, diversity and sustainability at their core.

Kings Square project – next community workshop on this Tuesday May 1.

As you are no doubt aware City of Fremantle  is preparing an urban design strategy for Kings Square, Queen Street and adjacent areas that aims to revitalise the Kings Square Precinct as the heart of the city.

There was an open day in Kings Square today and a guided walking tour around the square by Kieran Wong from CODA which I’ve put some photos of below as well as some of the ideas that CODA (who the City of Fremantle have employed to help pull this together) has on display

The next event is on this Tuesday 1 May – an interactive community workshop will also be held from 5.30 pm to 8.30 pm at the City of Fremantle reception room to facilitate discussion and feedback on the proposals before the strategy is finalised for consideration by council. Access is via the curved staircase in Kings Square opposite the entry to Myer.

RSVP’s are highly desirable for the workshop and can be made by phone on 9432 9805 or emailed to

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Pointing redevelopment in the right direction

This week Fremantle Council voted to advertise the business plan for tendering for the redevelopment of the property it owns on Point Street.

For those of you that don’t know it is the rather unattractive buildings near Clancy’s and Princess May Park that includes the Port Cinema and Point Street multiple-storey carpark and shops like Fleet Cycles.

This 5000m2 site is under amendment 49 zoned for four floors facing Princess May Park and six facing Point Street.

Fremantle Council’s vision for this site is that it set the high standard for development the east end of the city. It will be a green, mixed use building that will include affordable housing and a very high standard of building design. Design requirements include:

•           To act as a catalyst to stimulate development and further regeneration of the east end area of the city centre.

•           The development must achieve a ‘green design’ (Green Star) rating equivalent to at least 5 star, incorporating low energy and water use, on-site energy generation, recycling, roof planting, etc. The development will include a green roof of at least 25% of roof top space. By requiring this high standard of sustainable design into the redevelopment of the site it can also serve as a demonstration to other developers and the community.

•           To achieve a quality modern development that protects and reinforces the area’s significant cultural heritage.

•           To increase the number and diversity of people in the area as a combination of workers, residents and visitors as well as affordable housing

While the City has debated doing this redevelopment itself, the truth is that when Council’s do their own redevelopments they often end up been rather terrible because we just don’t have the right expertise and experience. The last time Council tried this in Fremantle was the Queensgate building and that is hardly a quality outcome.

Instead the Fremantle Council is requiring developers build up to the high standards we are setting so I think this will be an excellent development outcome. Here are a few images from the planning process

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Plans for the Future of Fremantle – A 1979 perspective

When a Murdoch Uni student and I were researching the Unbuilt Fremantle exhibition we came across this article from the Fremantle Gazette in 1979 in which the Fremantle Society mapped out their vision for future Fremantle,

Hopefully you can read it all but I especially love the opening paragraph which states:

Future Fremantle residents could exercise the bicycles on cycleways, walk down tree-lined streets and cul-de-sacs, have their rubbish recycled, live in inner city low-rise housing and have a comprehensive train service.

I was amazed that what we take granted in 2012 were ideas radical and visionary enough to be worth reporting on 1979.

I wonder which of the ideas we are debating now that will be seen as an obvious part of a good community, a further future Fremantle, in another 30 years time?

A tale of two port cities

Last week I visited South Australia to look at the lessons can be learnt from the revitalisation of urban centres around Adelaide. Let me start by saying there was a surprising number of good things happening in places as diverse as the Adelaide CBD, Glenelg and Norwood. I will write about these successes in future blogs. Today I want to reflect on an urban centre that is failing and as a result has some useful lessons for Fremantle.

Port Adelaide is this failed centre. It was like Fremantle. In fact its similarities are striking. It is a port city with many of the same buildings and places.  It has an amazing array of heritage buildings including a Dalgety Wool stores, an  Elders Wool store, a High St (in this case Commercial Road) full of gold rush heritage buildings, a 120 year old Town Hall, a Port Authority tower, and a water front with a maritime TAFE and an industrial backdrop. It even has its own AFL team like Fremantle. It felt like Fremantle’s true sister city except for one very important fact. Port Adelaide has died as a vibrant community and retail and commercial centre. On the main streets almost every shop is for sale or lease. The only open stores I saw on the main street were a Salvos, a tattoo shop and a Cash Converters. There are no people except for what the Port Adelaide CEO rather frankly called “lost tourists” wondering how and why they ended up there.

What went wrong for Port Adelaide and how can Fremantle learn from the mistakes of its heritage port city twin?

1. The first mistake it made was to allow a major suburban style shopping mall to be built a few blocks from the main street. This gutted Port Adelaide’s unique main-street retail and it has never recovered. This was a mistake I believe Fremantle almost had repeated through the ING plans on Vitoria Quay.

2. The loss of their working port. The Port Adelaide’s working port moved to the outer harbour leaving an underutilised tourist port and a lack of non-port related jobs.

3. On the old port land they built low quality, low rise residential on it (two and three stories – see photo) instead of infill of an adequate density to get people living and working in Port Adelaide. These residents now all leave Port Adelaide for work.

4. A lack of potential uses for their heritage buildings. Port Adelaide Council said it desperately wants a Notre Dame Uni equivalent to activate the place and use these empty buildings.

Look closely at the photos below and you’ll see that almost every building is boarded up or for lease. This was once a thriving port city also but one that failed to respond adequately to the changes around it. There are clear lessons for Fremantle. Put simply, a great water front location, a range of beautiful heritage buildings and a history as the state’s second city is not enough to make a place have a great future without a clear vision, good planning and probably a bit of luck.

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Give Blood for Freo

You might have heard that the Australia Red Cross blood service is running a “Battle of the Burbs” to encourage people to give blood. Half way through the challenge a 105 residents from City of Fremantle have already rolled up their sleeves to give blood and save lives.

105 donations has rewarded the City of Fremantle with a closely contested eighth position on the challenge leader board!

The battle is on to see who will seize final victory!  Battle of the Burbs Blood Challenge finishes Sunday 29 April. So, there’s still time to get together with colleagues and friends to give blood on corner of Alma and South Tce.

Article I just published – Bike lanes’ economic benefits go beyond jobs

Today on the online site The Conservation I published an article that  looks at why bike lanes make good economic sense (see below or follow link). This is why the new WA bike network plan is so frustrating as it won’t even finish the principle shared path from Fremantle to Perth by 2021! To have a look at the plan and make comment go here. Otherwise enjoy the article!

Bike lanes’ economic benefits go beyond jobs

You might have heard that bike lanes are a waste of money. The Australian National Audit Office recently investigated the $40 million bike path scheme, announced in 2009 as part of the Federal Government’s stimulus package, and found the scheme “fell significantly short” of hitting its aims.

The Australian newspaper article “More stimulus questions as cycle of waste rolls on” took up the story, describing the auditor’s “major concerns”.

According to the Australian, the Australian National Audit Office said the construction of the bike paths didn’t create as large a number of jobs as the scheme had envisaged.

What this perspective fails to grasp, however, is that the economic benefits of bike paths are not simply limited to jobs created during path construction. Long after the bike path concrete has dried the economic benefits can keep rolling, so long as the bike path is well planned and integrated into a broader cycle network.

The ongoing benefits of bike infrastructure were illustrated in a recent media report which showed that new Sydney cycleways have had a positive effect on property prices. This account indicated that having a bike path right outside your front door increases the value of your house. One owner in the area said that the combination of a garage at the rear and the bike path out the front had added a premium of $100,000 to his house.

The rise in real estate prices from bike lanes is not limited to Australia. Across the other side of the world, a study in Pittsburgh found that bike paths led to increases in business and property selling prices. Realtors in North Carolina reportedly added US$5,000 to the prices of 40 homes adjacent to the Shepherd’s Vineyard Bikeway. Similarly results from the City of Vancouver indicated that 65% of realtors would use the bikeway as a selling feature of a home. The University of Delaware study showed that on average properties within 50m of a bike path could be expected to increase property values by at least US$8,800.

Going beyond house prices, a study done for the City of Sydney shows the city’s planned 200 km cycleway network would deliver $506 million in net economic benefits over 30 years. This is roughly equivalent to a $4 return on every dollar spent, compared with just $2 for motorway projects.

Evidence of the broader economic benefits of bike lanes is not limited to Australia. In Copenhagen the bicycle, with a modal share of 36%, is already the most used form of transport for trips to work or educational institutions. A study commissioned by Copenhagen’s mayor showed that driving cars offers up a $0.20 net loss for each mile driven, due to congestion, health, accidents and environmental impacts. This is in contrast to the bicycle which offers a $0.35 net benefit to the economy per mile ridden.

In a similar manner in Portland, Oregon, increased cycling as result of sustained bike lane investment is generating more than $100 million of economic activity each year and creating 1000 jobs.

The success of raising cycling rates in Copenhagen and Portland illustrates the benefits of strong and sustained investment in a network of bike lanes. As these integrated networks expand and connect the places people want to go to and from, this creates greater use, better network efficiencies and better returns on investment.

Or as Greg Ip puts it: “Just as you are more likely to buy an iPad the more applications it has, you are more likely to switch from car to bicycle the more bicycle lanes (and therefore destinations reachable by bicycle) are available. Doubling the number of bike lanes more than doubles the number of cyclists likely to use them.”

And of course there are the positive long-term economic benefits of bike infrastructure such as the savings to the health system, and the impact a greater percentage of people cycling has on lowering the cost of road infrastructure.

Cycling infrastructure is a low cost urban transport option that has the potential to have greater overall economic, environmental and social benefits, compared to mainstream urban transport investment. But it is also clear that much of the evidence available is anecdotal and somewhat thin.

If cycling is to be a central part of our cities more research and data is needed to better illustrate the correlation between a healthy investment in a city’s cycling infrastructure and a healthy city economy.

Not only does better bike infrastructure help create a more liveable and sustainable cities, but the early evidence is that it improves local economies as well. The next step is for cities to both step up this level of investment and back it up with high quality research along the way