10 years to turn around a city

Beaufort Street shuts up shop as Five Bar becomes latest Mt Lawley casualty (ABC News)

There is little doubt that high streets in our urban centres are struggling at present.

High rents, competition from online shopping and suburban shopping centres, Uber Eats and paid parking are often blamed. But this challenge is not unique to Fremantle, it can be seen in Mt Lawley, Subiaco and parts of Perth too. In fact, it is a global crisis.

Experts from around the world have been tackling these issues in cities across the globe and we can learn a lot from them. For example, this story which described the transformation of the city of Mullhouse in France.

From bleak to bustling: how one French town solved its high street crisis (The Guardian)

Just over a decade ago, Mulhouse… was a symbol of the death of the European high street.” 

“Today, Mulhouse is known for the staggering transformation of its thriving centre, bucking the national trend for high street closures. In the past eight years, more than 470 shops and businesses have opened here. Mulhouse is unique in that 75% of new openings are independents, from comic book stores to microbreweries and organic grocers. It is one of the only places in France with as many independents as franchises. And it is one of very few places in France where more shops are opening than closing.”

“Mulhouse has shown it takes at least a decade to turn things around.”

This is good news for Fremantle, as you could argue that the turn around started with the election of Brad Pettitt as Mayor in 2009, meaning that we are nearing the end of a decade of action to revitalise the city.

In Mullhouse, just as we have done in Fremantle, they increased the amount of housing, improved public spaces and streetscapes, planted trees, and invested in transport network improvements.  These strategic and structural improvements take time but should pay off as they did in Mullhouse.

With the Kings Square project due for completion in 2020, bringing with it 2000 new workers to central Fremantle, and indications of the WA economy improving, we are on track to see the renewal of Fremantle’s CBD in just over a decade.

Kings Square was always anticipated to be a catalyst for investment in the CBD, and with the redevelopment of numerous significant sites including the Woolstores, the police station and warders cottages, in addition to new residential developments dotted throughout the city, Fremantle has begun to turn around its fortunes, despite WA’s economic downturn. Just like Mullhouse, Fremantle has unique characteristics that will enable it to differentiate from all the other shopping centres and thrive as discretionary spending starts to increase again.

However, the next 12 months are likely to be tough. Watercorp are undertaking major works to renew the water pipes in the Cappuccino Strip and West End from July – November, which will cause significant disruption. The Council is negotiating with Watercorp to minimise the negative impact and is working hard to help business get through the tough times.

For example, the destination marketing advertising campaign will commence in June, to welcome people from all over Perth back to Fremantle.

Fremantle residents can make use of the free parking after 3pm and there are lots of great events and activities taking place over winter including Ten Nights in Port and Winterworld.

So while times may be tough, I truly believe there is hope ahead. Just as they experienced in Mullhouse, it takes about ten years and everyone working together to turn a city around. And it feels like we’re almost there.