Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Amalgamation: Good or bad for Freo?

A little like my expanding girth (suffice to say the word diet has been mentioned by my wife) amalgamating local governments has been in the news lately and the consensus seems to be that bigger isn't better. So what does it mean for Freo?

Does the Supermarket v. Boutique analogy hold true?

An analogy that I've frequently heard bandied around is that we currently enjoy a smaller 'boutique' style local government, and that amalgamation will create a 'supersized' Coles/Woolworths type authority.

But does this comparison hold true under scrutiny?

Obviously, this analogy is heavily loaded in favour of the current smaller style. Who's going to come out in favour of a soulless supermarket conglomerate over mum-and-dad type small businesses?

By using the term 'boutique', proponents of this analogy are implying a raft of attributes to smaller local government authorities. Personal, attentive service with locals in mind. Higher quality, albeit with higher prices. Customers will be treated as more than a number. A boutique local government will have local knowledge and the decisions it makes will be based on local needs.

Likewise, the term supermarket also comes loaded with meaning. Soulless. Uncaring of local needs and with no investment in the local area. Cheaper, yes, but only because their buying power can crush smaller competitors. Careless about quality. Customers, employees, suppliers - they're only valued so far as they serve the supermarket's relentless drive for more market share and more profits.

The thing is that I currently live in a so-called boutique local government and I can't honestly say that the current City of Fremantle local government possesses any of those superior 'boutique' qualities. Does it demonstrate that it really cares about the local area? Does it value its community? Does it provide high quality products and services?

The answer to all of these questions is a no.

In fact, it feels very much like the incumbent City of Fremantle local authority currently has much more in common with a supermarket than a boutique, except for its size. When people say that a Coles/Woolworths type local authority would be bad, I'm thinking that they mean that they'd get a local authority that was soulless, that was generally apathetic to its ratepayers, that has little genuine love for the area or the community. Isn't that what we're getting now?

The dustbowl

The Town Hall not looking the best

Freo Festival of Litter

All of this got me thinking about what's bad about shopping in Coles in Fremantle. What's bad is when you go shopping for bread at two in the afternoon and find that, yet again, your favourite rustic baguettes have sold out. You mention something to the seventeen year old employee passing by. The response is a sulky look that says, as clearly as if it was enunciated, "Thanks for telling me something I didn't know, grandpa. Besides we're doing you a favour - you could do without having a couple of baguettes."

My point is that if we currently have a boutique local government authority now, with boutique sized prices, what am I getting for my extra money? The City of Fremantle isn't going the extra mile. They're not making better decisions for the community. Look at the Bathers Beach black asphalt landing strip and dustbowl, the crumbling Town Hall, the ten day turnaround on queries.

I think that it has become fashionable to use the Coles/Woolworths analogy without any real scrutiny as to what it actually means and whether or not it applies to Freo's situation. Try as I might, I'm just not buying this analogy. I can't help but feel that what we're getting is a Coles/Woolworths type local government at boutique prices...the worst of both worlds.

Will ratepayers get better value for money?

The economic argument against small local government is that the smaller bureaucracies may be quite top heavy, in that there are lots of chiefs and not as many Indians. For me this isn't value for money, nor does it guarantee higher quality. The chiefs, by virtue of a lack of Indians can find themselves dealing in micro level activities that are not justified according to their pay scale. Meanwhile, the Indians can come and go because of a lack of opportunity, whilst chiefs tend to hang around too long. Staff turnover, especially when it is likely to be an Indian, does not provide any kind of value for ratepayers. Plus, the energy and innovativeness of the organisation stagnates.

All the while, local governments are being asked to undertake more and more complicated projects. Unfortunately, as a result local governments will outsource all or part of a particular project to consultants, because they don't have the staff numbers, nor the expertise, to implement them. This just exacerbates the lack of opportunities for staff and for small local governments this vicious cycle is exacerbated.

Relying on consultants isn't great value for money either. These days consultants don't come cheap. And what is disappointing is that after we've paid for their next holiday, these consultants leave with the body of knowledge related to implement that project. It is particularly galling to think that enthusiastic staff within the smaller local authority could be missing out on golden opportunties to test themselves on interesting projects. This brings us back to the vicious cycle again.

In one sense an argument for a significantly larger local government for Freo is that the new bureaucracy will be more likely to carry out significant infrastructure projects. Light rail in Freo may become more of a distinct possibility, which isn't the case at the moment.

For me, whether or not ratepayers will get value for money does not necessarily come down to the size of the bureaucracy but the quality of the staff. A bureaucracy where there are more Indians than chiefs, and where they can test themselves means a better, more effective local government.

Will we lose the sense of community that smaller local governments are credited with bringing?

I used to be a subscriber to the argument that smaller local governments have a competitive advantage when it comes to creating a greater sense of community than their larger compatriots. Then I travelled to Paris.

Inner Paris is made up of twenty arrondissements with about two million people. A single local government administration manages all those neighbourhoods. One of the many lessons that I learnt from walking through many of these arrondissements was that each neighbourhood had managed to retain its own uniqueness and community.

It made me realise that a sense of community is rarely reliant on an organisation for its existence. Instead, the feeling of community in a place is created by the people who live there.

I'm far from convinced that smaller local governments have an exclusive mortgage on creating a sense of community. I've never been to Brisbane (which only has one local government authority), but I wonder if there is a sense of community missing in that city? I doubt it.

I'm thinking that the whole building-a-sense-of-community thing has less to do with the size of our local bureaucracies and more to do with people. Sure local authorities can play a role but Freo has an awesome community almost in spite of the local authority.

What does all of this mean for amalgamation and Freo?

Firstly, to argue that a new larger bureaucracy representing Freo will be robbed of its superior 'boutique' qualities is flawed, given our current local governent's performance.

Secondly, to suggest that Freo's already awesomely kick ass sense of community will disappear in a blink of an eye if our boundaries expand seems to me to patronise all those people and community groups helping to create that sense of community.

Lastly, unlike my own expanding girth, I tend to feel that a larger City of Greater Fremantle presents more benefits than costs over the long term.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Some awesome websites and blogs about cities

As I mentioned in one of my posts earlier this month (Some cool quotes about cities, click here), I've been enjoying some awesome reading about cities. As my wife stubbornly clings to her unreceptive ways, I thought I'd share some of my favourite websites and blogs with readers of my blog instead.

The Atlantic Cities (click here)

I visit this gem of a website daily for oodles and oodles of interesting articles about different facets of cities. Richard Florida, world renowned urbanism guru, is the co-founder and editor at large for the website.

Amongst the site's myriad of great contributors, I particularly enjoy The Urban Wonk (aka Kaid Benfield) whose latest article on building better bus stops is a beauty and Nate Berg who provides interesting snippets on all things cities related.

Always kept up-to-date with regular articles, The Atlantic Cities is one of my favourite sources of ideas for my blog and highly recommended for some enjoyable reading on cities. 

The Pop-Up City (click here)

I recently discovered this truly kick ass blog. The Pop-Up City explores the latest ideas shaping our cities. There is a strong focus on the emerging concepts, strategies and methods that can be used to achieve more people-friendly cities.

This blog is another great source of potential ideas for Freo. All that is left to do is to issue a formal power salute to recognise this blog's awesomeness.

Playscapes (click here)

Regular Freo Doctor readers will appreciate my passion for bringing back the fun into our cities, especially for the kiddies. Then it'll come as no surprise that Playscapes, a blog about playground design, is one of my favourites.

Here is a quote from Playscapes, which says it all.
"Because it's difficult to find non-commercial playground information. And I find that frustrating.

Because a playground doesn't have to cost a million bucks and come in a box. In fact, it's better if it doesn't.

Because playgrounds are under-recognized as an artistic medium.
Because everybody loves a playground."

Playscapes is kept regularly updated with absolutely drop your cup of tea in the morning kick ass playgrounds from around the world. 

Paris Breakfasts (click here)

Paris Breakfasts is one of my favourite blogs for a number of reasons. It is kept regularly updated. It is about Paris, my favourite city. It often includes posts about spectacularly tasty looking French food. I love the photos of everyday life in Paris.

It is one of my favourite blogs about cities because its creator (Carol Gillott) captures the essence of living in a city that is vibrant and full of life and activity. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The state of Freo's infrastructure

A couple of weeks ago my wife met me in Perth on a Friday evening. We had a cocktail (before giggling behind your hand, know that the one I had was Ernest Hemmingway's favourite) and then strolled around for a couple of hours enjoying the Friday evening vibe.

During our walk my wife commented about how the look of the city had markedly improved since the early days of our courtship ten years ago, when a night out in Perth City meant dodging vomit slicks on the pavement and making sure your hepatitis innoculations were up to date. It didn't happen overnight, but the city has gradually been transformed into a place of clean pavements, sufficient lighting and populated streets that I'd be happy to visit. It seems to me that the City of Perth are ahead of the game when it comes to understanding that investing in quality infrastructure gives a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting people.

The City of Perth isn't alone. Recently work began on improving the look of one of Perth's premier main streets - Bay View Terrace. This Perth icon is being transformed to the tune of almost 4 million big ones with the desired outcome being that the street attracts more people. The good work of the City of Perth over the past decade and the news that Bay View Terrace is being upgraded got me considering the state of central Freo's infrastructure, which isn't exactly our city's finest point. I'll begin with two of my sore points: the Town Hall and the Cappuccino Strip.

The Town Hall

Freo is fortunate enough to possess some fantastic heritage buildings. The east end of town doesn't have as many survivors as its western counterpart, but it does still boast the amazing Town Hall. This awesome building is a hotspot for tourists and one of Freo's most iconic landmarks. Even better, the Town Hall is under the care and attention of the City of Fremantle, so there's no need for us proud residents to worry about some skinflint landlord letting this beautiful building run down...or is there?

Some photos of our rundown Town Hall

Not a good look for Freo

Sparked by some emails by John Dowson, I paid a visit to the Town Hall on Saturday and boy is it shameful. The grand entrance is completely dilapidated, covered in peeling, mouldering paint, with chunks of the columns rotting with rust. The exterior doesn't just look old, it looks absolutely filthy. What kind of message does this send to the tourists that come to photograph our gracious Town Hall? No wonder all the ones I saw taking photographs were using their wide angled lenses.

So what can be done?

I'd like to think that the City has a long-term maintenance programme for the Town Hall. It isn't rocket science, is it? Let's see this programme funded over the next three years, so that by 2015 my three hundredth post can be dedicated to the sparkling upgraded Town Hall.

The Cappucino Strip

Compared to central Perth, I'm afraid to say that Freo's favourite place for having a coffee has taken on a decidedly uncared-for appearance. Don't get me wrong, I don't want the Cappucino Strip to be something straight out of Clone Town Magazine or Stainless Steel Monthly. What I would like to see is clean bins (that aren't filled to oveflowing every weekend) and without pavement stained by god knows what underneath. The road surface and footpath look like they were laid around the time that the America's Cup was kicking off. Walking along these footpaths people can take delight in checking out old chewing gum, vomit and food stains, as well as plenty of miscellaneous discolourations that I'm grateful not to be able to identify. Old bollards that need a fresh lick of paint or replacing aren't a good look for our premier street.

What can be done?

I'd like to see Council dedicate some much needed tender love and care to the strip over the next three years. Budgeting for the street should take into account the introduction of shared space, some decent street trees (following the successful streetscape enhancement trial) and a couple of kick ass entry statements.

It's also the little things that count

For me, the Cappuccino Strip and the Town Hall characterise the general dilapidated state of central Freo's infrastructure. When my wife and I walk around the city centre there are far too many little examples of rundown infrastructure. Unfortunately the only logical conclusion that a reasonable person can come up with is that the Freo just don't care.

I think that I'd be able to stomach the big ticket items a little more if the City could show they did the little things properly. Bins cleaned regularly and rubbish picked up so that they don't overflow. Dodgy looking bins replaced. Bollards painted or replaced when they've been dislodged. Cracked pieces of pavements replaced. Why are some trees in the High Street mall still enclosed by tacky looking fencing? Cleaning the gum from Freo's Walk of Fame.

What can be done?

Simple, the City can start showing that it cares by investing in doing the little things well.

Conclusion

For me, the state of Freo's infrastructure is sorely lacking. Freo is in the business of competing to attract people, residents, talent, businesses. In this competition, quality matters. There is no way of getting around this simple fact.

I'm happy to see that the new Business Improvement District for Freo has been approved. I noticed that it has a sizeable marketing budget. Walking around the central city with its shabby looking infrastructure, I wonder if this money can't be better spent on improving the quality of central Freo's infrastructure, otherwise what is there to be marketed? The Freo Festival of Litter?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mini Freo Monuments IV

It's been a while coming, but here it is at last - another edition of my mini Freo monuments.

The little tortoise at Kings Square

The animal kingdom can be a little neglected in artistic representation, unless they're of the coat-of-arms variety, which makes the humble little tortoise in Kings Square even more special.

The little tortoise at Kings Square
The little tortoise is located on the side of the square that is closest to Queen Street and isn't that far from another mini Freo monument - the Pietro Porcelli statue (click here).

Whenever my wife and I decide to kick back under the Morton Bay tree we always pay the tortoise a visit.

The different cheeses at The Mousetrap Gourmet Cheese Shop in the Fremantle Markets

Located in the Fremantle Markets is a little gem of a fromagerie - The Mousetrap Gourmet Cheese Shop. I might be biased but I really do believe that this little cheese shop is the best of its kind in Perth.


The cheese at The Mousetrap Gourmet Cheese Shop is one of my mini Freo monuments

The selection of cheeses on offer, ranging from the deliciously creamy to the tasty but odiferous, deserve to be recognised as mini Freo monuments in their own right.

Selection of mini Freo monuments from the The Mousetrap Gourmet Cheese Shop in the Fremantle Markets

Next time you're in the mood for a little cheesy delight, do as I do and head down to the Mousetrap and ask Rosemary for advice about what is ripe and ready for eating.

The Bathers Beach sign left over from WA Day

Thanks to Roel Loopers and his blog Freo's View, the improvements to the Bathers Beach sign left over from WA Day were documented in his photo below and in this blog post.

One of my mini Freo monuments. Source: Freo's View
I went down and checked it out and laughed myself silly. Whoever wrote those comments (my wife swears it wasn't her) deserves a power salute.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Moore & Moore Cafe turns four!

Before I get into the nitty gritty of this post, I'm chuffed that my wife (and chief editor) let me get away with the exclamation mark in the title of this post. She usually responds to question marks by asking if I'm going to start putting love hearts on the top of my 'i's as well. It's testament to Moore and Moore that she let this one through.

Moore & Moore Cafe turns four this year and the good news is that there is going to be a party!

I couldn't quite believe it, but time has gone that fast. I remember when my wife and I first moved to Freo and were told about a cool cafe operating on Henry Street. When we checked it out we were chuffed that this kick ass cafe well and truly lived up to the hype, and continues to deliver.

Back to the news about the party. I understand that it'll be happening on the 7 July. Three bands will be rocking the tunes for the evening. Money raised from the party will go towards helping to make Freo more cycle friendly. Simon Naber (the guru behind Moore & Moore Cafe) is looking for expressions of interest from local businesses and organisations for either a door prize, a silent auction (reserve being met) or a raffle.

Here is a list of what already been donated:

- A ladies hair cut and finish from Fu-bar.

- A beautiful bike hand restored and finished (with touches from local artist Sarah Milkula) donated as raffle prize by Captain Walker's Cycles.

- Fifty dollar vouchers from Brookers furniture, the Orient Hotel and Kartique.

- An original work offered by David Giles and Adam Monk for the silent auction.

Just quietly, I've got my very wife busily working on the first ever Fremantle Doctor Blog t-shirt which I'm happy to have it possibly raffled or auctioned off. (I'm assured by my wife that she'll make the t-shirt look suitably cool so that the lucky person can the wear the t-shirt knowing they'll look awesome and be the talk of the town.)

If anybody would like to help but can't contribute an awesomely designed t-shirt like me, Simon is also looking for volunteers to help out as well.

(If you're a local business or organisation and you're keen to donate a prize then contact Simon via Moore & Moore Cafe by calling 9335 8825)

So there is only one thing to do and that is book the 7 July in your calendars and wait for more information by checking the Moore & Moore Cafe website by clicking here.

Lastly, congratulations to Simon and the Moore & Moore Cafe crew for kicking ass at the recent 2012 Fremantle Business Awards. Simon won the Young Business Entrepreneur Award and Moore & Moore Cafe won the Excellence in Hospitality Award. Well deserved I say.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Reducing red tape in Freo

Recently I was kicking back enjoying a high octane espresso from Black Cherries at the Freo markets.  Sitting in the section near the brand new cooking school (it's great that a more permanent seating area has been created in the part of the markets) I began to think about that old chestnut of mine - red tape.

When it comes to describing the problems of red tape in the context of attempting to revitalise Freo, I particularly enjoy Winston Churchill's phrase about standing in a bucket and trying to lift oneself up by the handle.

David Engwicht is a prominent placemaker who has visited Freo frequently over the past few years. David's key message to bureaucrats is that the most effective way for local governments to do placemaking is to get out of the way by reducing red tape. He strongly advocates starting a red tape reduction party.

Is the party getting started in Freo?

David was recently in town again and I'm glad to report that Council has begun chipping away at some red tape.

An amendment to the planning scheme has been initiated that simplifies the process for people seeking planning approval for small bars, restaurants, shops, offices and consulting rooms in the city centre. This is a great initiative by Council and staff.

As the cool Melbourne guy (aka Dean Cracknell, aka @city_pragmatist) reported in his recent Freo Quick Shot article, Council has also reapplied to the powers-that-be for the reintroduction of the relaxed liquor rules that were successfully implemented as part of ISAF. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like certain state government agencies want to join the party.

So it seems that the party has started, but it still has a little way to go before it fires up. 

How to keep the party going?

Here are some of my thoughts about how to help Freo's red tape reduction party be the coolest party in town.

1. Review the number of licences and approvals a trader needs to set up an alfresco area.

For me, one of the lowlights of last year was the Moore and Moore Cafe alfresco debacle. The situation really begged the question: why does a trader need multiple licences and approvals to simply allow people to drink coffee outdoors?

One way Council could keep the red tape reduction party going is to revisit why traders need multiple licences and approvals for alfresco. There could be an opportunity to streamline the process so that confusion could be minimised and traders could focus on doing what they do best.

2. Annual 360 degree reviews

I'm sure that traders, landowners and residents would love to let the City of Fremantle know what aspects of red tape are needless, suffocating and just plain absurd. Like the Arthur Head artists, they may also have some useful and practical ideas for how the City may continue the transition from a stifling bureaucracy into an enabling bureaucracy.

These reviews offer the opportunity for the City of Fremantle to be the first local government authority to publically report on its red tape reduction initiatives annually.

3. No more silos

We've all seen the Greek-like tragedy of the installation of the CCTV cameras around the city centre play out for our entertainment.

Like these failures, new rules that are prepared in isolation can be a real problem. The City has the luxury of being able to summon interested precinct groups, different traders' associations and the Chamber of Commerce to provide input into proposed rules prior to substantially commencing their preparation. I'd like to see this luxury taken advantage of more often so that new rules and regulations are not preparing in silos.

4. Consider impact on small businesses

I don't know if there is one, but the City could consider introducing a small business impact test that would be applied to new rules and regulations. For those impacts found to be above a given threshold on small business, the City could tailor portions of the regulation to lessen this impact.

Conclusion

The story about the introduction of alfresco dining to Freo in the eighties provides solid proof about what is possible when local government chooses to facilitate innovation and cut pointless red tape.

I'm glad to see that the current Council has started its own red tape reduction party and I'm keen to see the party continue.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Another one for the ladies: Vintage clothes shopping in Freo

The other day I was having a natter with a friend when he mentioned that his daughter was going through a vintage clothing phase, and was spending many a weekend trawling through Freo's clothing shops for interesting finds.

Like me, my friend viewed the vintage clothing revival with a sense of mystification. I started out a whole-hearted supporter of my wife's second-hand shopping phase, notwithstanding the old-people smell that tended to accompany her when she wore her vintage purchases, until I found out that the specimens she was buying cost the same if not more as a brand new (and unscented) item. This wasn't the Vinnies I remembered!

Like most things though, my opinion has had little effect on the vintage clothing boom, which shows no signs of abating. And after four years of effectively undergoing an forced indoctrination to Freo's second-hand clothing scene, I was at least able to give my friend a few pointers for his daughter's next expedition.

It says something for the number of vintage clothing shops Freo has that this list is by no means exhaustive.

She Seldom Blushes (Atwell Arcade, enter via High Street mall or Cantonment Street)

A select assortment of both original and recut vintage clothes, as well some new items. Also has an eclectic range of jewellery.

She Seldom Blushes in Atwell Arcade

Broken Doll (Atwell Arcade, enter via High Street mall or Cantonment Street)

Lots of interesting, original items from a range of eras, from Mad Men-esque wriggle dresses to psychedelic seventies frocks. Also has several pieces available for hire, and an alteration service.

Broken Doll in Atwell Arcade

Retro Vinnies (High Street)

Look no further for all your original, unretouched vintage and retro clothing needs, including wedding dresses. Also has an extensive selection of men's clothing, including disco-era shirts and some really shocking jackets.


A selection of clothing from Retro Vinnies

Pongee (Queen Street, in the same complex as Gypsy Tapas across from Myer)

Vintage and retro pieces, as well as just standard second-hand (my wife assures me there is a distinction).

Some stylish stuff on show at Pongee

Lick the Wall (Cantonment Street)

Selling much more than just clothes, Lick the Wall is definitely worth a visit for the vintage aficiando.

Different days for posting during June

I hope everyone enjoyed the long weekend!

I've decided to dedicate June to doing some extra writing for the old blog. 

For the next month, I'm planning on publishing new posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Some cool quotes about cities

Lately I've been enjoying some quality reading about cities, and, seeing as my wife was unreceptive ("Are they going to be as boring as your quotes on parking?"), I thought I'd share some of my favourite quotes with Freo Doctor readers instead:

William H. Whyte on seating:

"The human backside is a dimension architects seem to have forgotten."

There isn't much I can add to this quote, it says it all.

Richard Florida on creative cities:

"Mayors, economic development leaders and city builders are best served by investing in both an appealing people climate and a competitive business climate, together.

To that end, they should eschew overly-generous business incentives and avoid large-scale investments in pro sports stadiums, convention centers, and big-time arts and cultural institutions. They are much better served by placing many smaller bets on school upgrades, the creation of parks and green spaces, and historical preservation - the kinds of quality of place improvements that Jane Jacobs long ago emphasized will stay rooted in and create benefits for their communities for a long time to come."

Florida has been on a hot streak lately. I really like this quote which is how Florida concludes his article on what critics get wrong about creative cities. (If you like the cut of his jib, check out another one of his recent articles which I documented on my blog here.)

Jane Jacobs on the keys to revitalising cities:

"Dull, inert cities, it is true, do contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

It isn't a stretch to find a common sense, kick ass quote from the legendary Jane Jacobs. Reading this quote, I can't help but feel that Carol Coletta's idea of a Central Activities District instead of a Central Business District is an awesome concept just waiting to be applied in Freo.

Jan Gehl providing a useful backward map for getting development right:

"First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works."

Again another common sense quote from another legendary placemaker. I'm thinking that a placemaking strategy for the entire city centre with accompanying precinct plans (especially for the eastern end of the city centre) would be of great value.