There is an interesting opinion piece in the West Australian today about the limitations of urban infill and the necessity of regional development.
Higher density in established suburbs and near railway stations and bus lines is not something that can go on indefinitely, so other alternatives need to be considered.
The WA state government has long been talking about decentralisation and to its credit has moved some departments out of the Perth CBD, but private businesses and large corporations still appear reluctant to open offices outside of Perth.
Most big law, mining and advertising companies are in Perth or West Perth and Fremantle has been struggling for decades to attract large companies to relocate here.
While it is good that Fremantle has so much residential, commercial and tourist development at the moment, there is only limited space in the inner city and we need to protect the unique character and heritage attraction of our city.
But decentralisation and city planning needs to become a much bigger picture than that even and fast rail transport to places like Northam, Albany, Bunbury and Geraldton should be considered.
Mining companies should start building permanent accommodation for their personnel in the Pilbara to decrease the high-polluting FIFO process and increase the regional population.
The Perth metropolitan urban sprawl needs to stop because it is not sustainable and too expensive, but filling up character older suburbs with ugly high concrete boxes is also not the solution.
What our politicians lack is big visionary thinking when it comes to planning the regional cities of the future. Planning is still far too much Perth-centric that will only worsen the traffic, public transport and environmental problems that are inevitable when too many people are squeezed into city living.
Innovative integrated regional development should be a priority for the new McGowan Labor government.
We are not alone in Perth looking to create more liveable cities and slowing down the unsustainable urban sprawl. In the USA they call it New Urbanism and have basically come up with similar ideas as our communities and city planners have, such as:
Walkable access: mixed use neighbourhoods with pedestrian connections within a five-minute walk.
Higher density development: smaller lot size and multi-storey mixed-use structures.
Urban scale: buildings and roads facilitating connections between people.
Local parks: enhanced for accessible recreational activities and community meetings.
Traffic-calming transit designs: traffic circles for arterial intersections and dedicated bike paths.
Car-free zones: public spaces offering relief from carbon-monoxide pollution.
People-oriented public spaces: open areas, sidewalks, cafes and front porches to accommodate public life.
To achieve the best outcomes it requires planning sessions where the community, designers and city planners and others collaborate on a vision for development. This provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving feedback before development starts instead of having negative community backlash after it has been implemented. More importantly, it empowers everyone who participates to take on ownership of the process.
I believe the process does not necessarily has to be initiated by local or state governments but could be organised by community groups, universities, architects, city planners,etc. Here in Fremantle a collaboration between the Fremantle Network and universities would be a great start as it would increase the participation of younger people who no doubt will want a say on how our future cities should look.
USA planners also are looking for decentralisation of the workforce with more government agencies and offices moving to the suburbs away from the city centric traffic congestion causing situation we have now.
City planning is not rocket science but it needs an integrated approach where local and state agencies pro-actively work together on long-term planning, instead of the ad-hoc approach we often see.
With so many new residential and commercial development going on and planned for the future in Fremantle, it is essential for the City to look at the creation of new and exciting public open spaces. In yesterday’s West Australian Perth architect Steve Postmus of Carrier and Postmus Architects wrote that “Landscape can shape a community and can be shaped by a community.”
Postmus also wrote we need to create diverse and creative public spaces with integrated amenities, but to do that local government needs social, urban, ecological and landscape experience. He also addresses something that often riles me, that “streetscape planning is often generic or absent.” and that there is a need to revitalise streetscapes.
The lack of respect for established streetscapes is something city planners don’t seem to care about much, so inappropriate buildings are allowed to be built, destroying amenity and character.
The Town of Vincent has recently created new public spaces including gardens, a piazza and Vincent Mayor John Carey is keen to find land to create a town square. That sounds like a good idea for Fremantle to adopt, especially with increasing apartments dwellers and office workers.
Vincent Mayor John Carey wrote “Great liveable cities are based around people: making streets more friendly for people to walk, enjoy and relax. As the Mayor of Vincent, I have actively pursued new public spaces: the new Oxford Street Reserve & playground in Leederville, Carr St pedestrian area & Mary Street Piazza in Mt Lawley. Here’s a simple but great addition, an unused area on Angove St, North Perth turned into a green space to relax in the sun and enjoy lunch! We are also looking at other areas in North Perth to create a public square!”
So where are the plans for civic spaces at Beach and Queen Victoria streets in Fremantle where extensive development is happening? Will all these people who live in apartments just have to go to Princess May Park or the Fremantle Arts Centre to enjoy a place of relaxation, or will COF actively create new public open spaces? Cantonment Hill is still many years away from becoming a major new green space in Freo, so we need to create other areas.
Fremantle City has never really tried to make Pioneer Park look stunning and inviting to dwell in, or properly landscape that lovely ocean view corner at Bathers Beach in front of J Shed. Just planting a whole lot of new trees, of which the majority will die and not mature, is not good enough, so let’s see some innovation in public space planning!