Why doesn't Freo have better Christmas lights?
|Christmas lights in Paris|
(and my wife, all rugged up)
It was a short discussion (and that's using the loosest possible definition of the word). "Can't do it." I was flatly informed. "It would ruin the sight lines down South Terrace, and that's an important heritage feature."
This struck me as absurd for a number of reasons, not least because I dispute whether or not South Terrace can be said to possess heritage sight lines of such purity that temporary Christmas lights will ruin them, when fleets of cars and traffic lights are its most obvious visual feature.
And, I might add, when I consulted John Dowson's excellent photographic book 'Old Fremantle', what did I see strung across the street but a significant volume of wires? Page 185 or pages 9 and 23-26 of 'Old Fremantle Childhood' for anyone who wants to look for themselves. Not heritage, indeed.
Planning for people
But no, it was a bigger issue that left me with an uneasy feeling after that particular meeting. Who is being served with an attitude like that? Certainly not residents, nor traders. In fact, it seems that the City of Fremantle is subordinating the interests of its community for the sake of a vague, intangible and much contested abstraction.
I have a serious objection to any argument or organisation that serves an idea over the best interests of people. Broken down to its most elemental purpose, what is - or rather, what should be - the function of any local government? Surely it's to serve the community and their best interests. And yet, Fremantle people are denied a Christmas lights display because of the City's intractable, illogical championing of the cause of heritage over the interests of the very people who fund its existence.
What would a Christmas lights display bring to Fremantle? Pleasure for Fremantle families? It's hard to imagine otherwise. An increased number of visitors and associated benefits for traders? Almost certainly.
Experts at saying no
Let me be clear that I treasure Fremantle's unique character and am a keen supporter of heritage - however, to me this issue has nothing to do with heritage. The argument put forward to me at the working group meeting was singularly unconvincing, even more so once I did some basic research, but it had the effect of shutting down any discussion on the subject. The City of Fremantle has become expert at finding ways and reasons to say no.
Fremantle people might remember that there were Christmas lights in South Terrace last year. For that, we have our traders to thank - specifically, Ivan Dzeba of Benny's, also a candidate for the city ward. (Technically that does make him my rival, but Ivan's work for Freo has my admiration and respect.) Freo's traders were the ones who organised and forked out the money for those lights, and persuaded Council to match their contribution.
My lightbulb moment
I don't want to have to travel to Perth City for my daughter to be able to share in the glory of Christmas lights. Our public spaces can be made much better, and to me what should be at the heart of any improvements - the core consideration - is the people of Fremantle. I respect community wisdom; people don't have to be trained in design to know intuitively where they will spend time and where they won't. As a Councillor I will leave my ego behind and help communities achieve their goals.
And just imagine what might be possible if the City learnt how to say 'yes'?