The proposed skate park or ‘youth plaza’ on the Esplanade has been a complex and contentious local issue that I have spent much time considering and discussing over the last few months, with numerous people, in order to come to my own position. I have attempted to explain that position here.
I have found this issue challenging as I support a youth facility on the Esplanade, in a safe and open space that is well used and therefore safe, inclusive and welcoming. However, I also love the open space and quiet parkland that the Esplanade provides so close to the city centre. However, this issue should be considered in isolation, but in the broader context of the whole city and our contemporary issues we face.
City Green Spaces
There are actually a number of parks and quiet recreational areas that serve Fremantle’s inner city residents and visitors that should not be forgotten. For example Bathers Beach – which has more grass than it did two year ago, and I hope to expand the grass further in the coming months, the Round House and Captains Lane, Queen’s Square (at the intersection of Parry and High Streets), Princess May Park, Fremantle Park, Monument Hill and Cantonment Hill – which is receiving a major upgrade that will see it transformed into Fremantle’s very own Kings Park with the works about to get underway.
The Esplanade was created for recreational enjoyment. The active recreational uses on the Esplanade such as the expanded children’s playground, the Carriage Cafe and its lovely deck under the trees, the skywheel and Dismantle are all very successful and popular recreational uses that add to the amenity and enjoyment of the Esplanade Reserve. It is envisaged that the skate plaza will have an equally positive effect on the reserves public realm.
We must also factor in the reality of a drying climate. The Water Corporations has reduced the water allocation to local governments and Fremantle Council must reduce our water use in our parks and landscaping by 30%. To do this, we will need to reduce the overall amount of grass, especially if we want to ensure that the grass we do have is well maintained and useful.
I love the mound. But through this process I have had to ask myself – why? What is it about the mound that I love? The answer is that I love being able to either sit at a vantage point to look out over the park and watch the goings on, or tuck myself away within it for a little privacy and solitude. It is these practical features of the mound that we have asked the designers to retain in the final skate park design. Because, despite local urban myths and speculation, the mound actually serves no practical purpose – just the amenity and enjoyment that it provides, which will be retained or replicated in the design.
Sadly, some of the criticism of the proposed skate park has been based on the assumption that it will attract antisocial behavior, graffiti or crime. The City of Fremantle has a strategic goal to be inclusive of youth and provide facilities and services that make young people feel like a welcome part of our community and encourages their participation, physical activity and positive interaction with the everyone else. Evidence (and logic) suggests that the best way to elicit positive behavior among young people is to provide constructive outlets for their energy, positive social opportunities and role models. The youth plaza meets these aims. By building the youth plaza in a very public, well used space means that the likelihood of antisocial behavior is reduced due to the level of passive surveillance from watchful eyes. We don’t want to make the kids feel like they’ve been shoved in the naughty corner!
Heritage and culture is a living, evolving thing – it is not stagnant or constant. The park will still be a park, a beautiful place for recreation and outdoor activities. We are adding some facilities to a small section of the park (less than 10%) that will attract and engage our kids and young adults in a positive recreational activity. We are not cutting down any of the trees but in fact propose to plant more for shade.
The issues and concerns raised by some members of the community have been heard and acted upon, with an amendment developed by the Mayor and Councilors Andrew Sullivan, Dave Coggin and I that includes the following:
a) increase the extent of separation between the plaza and the existing mature Norfolk Island Pines – which will reduce the youth plaza’s encroachment into the passive recreation area of the park
b) examine options for creating new permeable green spaces (not necessarily grass but vegetated) within the Fremantle CBD to offset loss of green space on Esplanade – to ensure there is no loss of net green space in the CBD
c) options for the creation of undulating sculpted grass play features in the vicinity of the Esplanade Reserve – to replicate (and improve) the functionality and enjoyment provided by the mound
While I recognize that this significant change to a much used and loved space does cause some concerns for some people, I envisage that ultimately the youth plaza will be a vibrant and enjoyable recreational area for people of all ages. I hope that in time, more people will agree that the youth plaza is a positive addition to the Esplanade Reserve.
I am also excited by the early designs for the youth plaza which include additional trees, BBQs, basketball and various interesting structures for seating. You can see the community feedback on the skate park built in St Kilda by Convic, who are designing Freo’s skate park here.