Freo Funk

Perhaps I am just impatient but when will Fremantle become the city it deserves to be?

I encourage readers to take a proper walk through Fremantle, from east to west on any given weekday morning and wonder at the pleasant – albeit eclectic – urban aesthetic that makes up the built form of our city. It is a genuinely enjoyable amble through a largely well-preserved Victorian era low-rise city. There’s the odd anomaly of course such as the Johnson Court flats, the new apartments along Queen Victoria Street, the sad Adelaide Plaza and the mildly unappealing commercial buildings on Queen Street.

There is ample opportunity to admire some of the more attractive buildings such as St. Patrick’s Basilica, the rejuvenated Manning Buildings and most of the West End’s heritage area because chances are you won’t be distracted by many people along the way. So bereft of people, it feels post-apocalyptic; there are a few zombies around after all.

It is the lack of people living in Fremantle that should be the first priority for the city’s decision makers.

With the state borders shut thanks to coronavirus, on weekdays, Fremantle city is now a tourist-free zone and it has highlighted how reliant we were on these visitors to maintain a modicum of vitality. Without these visitors, the lack of inner-city residents who shop and commune locally is brought into stark reality.

The economic malaise of Fremantle omnipresent for more than a decade now can be partly attributed to the lack of population increase within the city centre. The irony is that people love Freo, they seek to live here with demand for housing either for purchase or rent always relatively high comparative to other parts of the Perth metro area. Sadly, some of these would-be residents are turned off Fremantle by the social disfunction on open display on our streets.

There has been much effort put into addressing this issue; various business support initiatives such as the Freo BID and Freo Now, the local Chamber provides effective lobbying and the new Kings Square, FOMO and Civic Centre has already brought more workers into town. However, developers still complain about the general lack of support from the local government in supporting new development in the city.

Fierce criticism of proposed developments and reputational damage built up over many years that developers are not welcome in Fremantle continues to stymie population growth opportunities. Meanwhile, the emphasis on alternative, progressive issues championing marginal causes on the pretext of maintaining the eclectic character and charm of Fremantle has simply marginalised the quiet mainstream who might otherwise choose to live here.

It is a vexing issue and not one easily solved but abstract fears of ruining the character of Fremantle by bringing in more inner-city residents should no longer be allowed to hold the port city back from its deserved prosperity.

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