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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About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

3 Responses to A tale of two port cities

  1. janinemarshall says:

    wow yes, it is strikingly like Fremantle. That’s sad to see a city like that, very sad indeed. I was only reading a blog post not long ago on “Transforming a derelict city building into vertical gardens for nearby residents” and thinking what a great idea it was. Bringing more green space into the run down or derelict areas of cities. Its one of many good ideas to revitalise and reuse abandoned space.
    I cannot see Fremantle’s future being quite so grim – rather the contrary. Like you said, a clear vision and good planning is indeed an essential part of the success of a thriving city, and Freo is on the right path for sure….. with the addition of a little bit of luck too 🙂


  2. Paula amaral says:

    I’m worried that what is being proposed to replace the Woolstores Shopping Centre/Coles, is precisely a suburban style shopping mall. Like the new one in Claremont, in my opinion an absolute monstrosity. Perhaps ours will be worse as I’m not even sure that the Claremont one is 10 storeys high.

    • Paula
      You’ll be pleased to hear the proposal for the Woolstores Shopping Centre/Coles site is with no more retail than it has now but with lots of new residential and some office to bring more people into Freo. The designs I have seen are a lot better than Claremont too
      cheers, Brad

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