Once you ecoPOP, you just can’t stop!

The City of Fremantle has invested in two ecoPOPs!

This was a concept that I wrote about here and here, with hopes that Wray Avenue could have one incorporated as part of the Manning Street realignment. After several discussions with people, I felt there was opposition to the idea there because of the impact on sight lines and dropped the idea.

Since then, I have spoken to people about the idea of replacing one of the median strips at the intersection of Attfield Street and Wray Avenue.

This is an excellent location as it is a wider section of street, so it will impact less on sight-lines. There is very little shade around this point of Wray, so it will add that amenity and its associated cooling effect. The east/west alignment will maximise this effect. Finally, there is also no feature in this environment to slow down traffic (as the custom brought by Galati’s does further to the west) and the ecoPOP, with its strange appearance, is likely to do this.

Despite City Councillor hopeful Roel Loopers “poop-pooping” the idea on his blog, I do think these can provide excellent benefits to our community. Unlike trees planted directly into the ground, the ecoPOP infrastructure should support its own water and fertilisation, as it functions more like a closed-loop system. It is also meant to be a temporary structure that can be replaced with a permanent one later once a community embraces the concept, the ecoPOP then moved to a new area to inspire.

It’s great to see them in Kings Square – where we’d all like to see more people – and I hope passers-by stop to have a look and imagine where they could be in their community. While it doesn’t seem to be connected to gutters for the rainwater tanks and it doesn’t demonstrate the shading benefits (and it doesn’t have worms in the worm farm yet)  it is still a visible concept for the public to consider. Some interpretive signage for people would be a good feature to add too.

Hopefully you can swing by King’s Square or Pakenham Street near CUSP to have a look at the latest models.

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More on Michael Mobbs’s ecoPOPs

Michael Mobbs shared so many great ideas at Replants last month and I got all excited about the ecoPOP concept. You can read my blog on this here.

As I was about to head off to Melbourne, I emailed Michael to ask whether there were any examples in Victoria I could check out. He replied that the prototype he had built was in Dandenong so, on my way to hike around Wilson’s Promonotory, I stopped in to check it out.

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It clearly is a “prototype” when you compare it to the models in Michael’s new book Sustainable Food, and bigger than what I’m proposing for Wray Avenue.

Still, it gives a good sense of what such a structure looks like. It also gives an insight into what needs to happen to make it successful.

This prototype is in a very different environment to Wray Avenue. While it still provides (and demonstrates) the shading potential that an ecoPOP provides, it’s in a carpark, far from any houses.

On the other hand, the position here, by a bus stop, means that it will have many observers each day who take away an experience of the design. Furthermore, it can provide those commuters with fresh herbs, fruit and (perhaps most importantly) and opportunity to interact, share knowledge and develop a community in which people feel connected and safe.

Unfortunately, the water pump seems to have broken and a lot of the plants have died so, at least visually, it doesn’t appear to be an incredibly successful concept. Keep in mind though that it is a prototype in a very different context.

Unlike Wray Avenue, the prototype is far from any residents who could take some ownership of maintaining plants and replenishing it with annuals. In an ideal world, the bus users would do this but it would take some time for this sort of culture to establish itself.

I’m not as convinced that I can get the Wray Avenue idea happening as I think there were be too big a concern about sight lines for cars. But I’m still very interested in it.

I’d love any feedback on the concept and aim to start talking to Councillors about it very soon.

Pop up median strips

On Monday night Wray Avenue was privileged enough to host a forum on sustainable communities, thanks to the efforts of Ecoburbia and Growing Fremantle.

The forum was a conversation between our Mayor Brad Pettitt and Sydney author (amongst other things) Michael Mobbs.

With a focus on sustainability, Michael (famous for his book Sustainable House) outlined his realisation that he had made his house sustainable, but he himself still had a huge impact on energy and resource use. In particular, the food that he ate and the energy embodied in getting it to his table.

He advocated a range of ways to address this, including composting all food waste on your own property, only buying local food and turning public space into areas for food production.

Related to this was his concept for addressing one of his other chief concerns. Michael shared research that he had done on the way roads impact on the temperature of the surrounding houses. Usually dark in colour, they absorb massive amounts of heat during the day and release it during the night, adding between 5 and 6 degrees to the ambient temperature of the area.

As we’ve all experienced hot sweltering summer nights in Western Australia, I’m sure we can see this is a concern.

Michael has ways to address this heat, some of which include changing the composition of our road surfaces. Another idea is his idea of an ecoPOP, or a pop up median strip. It’s a fantastic way of creating shade and introducing heat-lowering effects of plants into an urban environment.

The City of Fremantle has one and are interested in getting it out into a street scape. Inspired by Michael’s talk, I’ve put together a proposal as to how this can be done on Wray. You can read it here: Proposal for an ecoPOP on Wray Avenue

It’s based on a modification to the plans to change the intersection of Manning Street and Wray Avenue and I believe it will also be a positive measure to reduce traffic speed on our street.

I’d love to collect signatures on a petition showing community support for this and present it to the Mayor early in the new year. I’ve placed copies of the petition on the chair besides my front door if you’re interested in signing it.

Buses vs Bikes

I missed my precinct meeting yesterday to head out Mt Lawley way to watch a performance at the new Spectrum Project (read my review of this performance here).

The issue of traffic calming was on the agenda again.

My view on this is that we have an problem coming from outside our community. Since Wray Avenue is a throughway, we necessarily have to accept traffic. The extent to which this traffic is dangerous and exceeds the speed limit can be managed in several ways. I’m not sure what the right way to do this is, but I believe wholeheartedly that the wrong way is to sacrifice any of our amenity to counteract it.

Changing the direction of streets – or making them “one way” – or adding speed bumps and chicanery will only impact on what we already have. It is reactive and creates a streetscape that is not ideal for local residents.

It is a streetscape that we will have to endure everyday whereas the people who make our streets dangerous will likely come across it only once a week or less.

There are other proactive ways of addressing speed, such as the Safe Speed Promise that the City of Stirling have taken up.

My personal gripe with speed is largely aimed at the buses. In my opinion, they are the worst offenders, particularly along South Terrace at the end of Wray Avenue.

Yesterday, as I walked back from town, one such bus roared through the new roundabout and nearly took out a cyclist coming out of Wray Avenue. This cyclist was not a lycra-ed up speed cyclist but a middle aged woman with a pannier full of groceries.

Thinking about it, I should have got the bus’s number and called Transperth to make a complaint. This is another proactive measure that we can take – one that I intend to make more of.

An unfortunate thing about Wray Avenue is that cyclists persist on riding (illegally) on the footpath. But with bus drivers behaving so badly, I sometimes don’t feel safe near one when I’m behind the wheel of my car. I can hardly blame cyclists for fearing to ride on the bitumen.

Fremantle’s only avenue

On the weekend, a friend remarked that Wray Avenue was the only avenue in Fremantle.

I had never thought about it before, but it’s true.

While there are a few in Whitegum Valley (Minilya, Yalgoo, Wongan etc.) and a couple in Beaconsfield (Fifth and Central), in the locality of Fremantle, Wray Avenue is the only road to be classified an avenue.

For me, an avenue conjures up images of a tree lined, main street. While this seems to be a common connotation, it’s origins apparently come from the French verb venir, meaning “to come”. This fits in with the typical role of an avenue road regularly used as a throughway.

While Wray Avenue certainly has trees along it now, tending to be (proudly) native in origin, this hasn’t always been the case.

Back in the 70s, the verge was set back much further and much of the current land used for landscaping was for parking cars.

Here are links to some photos from that time of houses on the corner of Wray Avenue and Brennan Street, further up at the now vacant shopfront that used to be the St Vincent de Paul’s store, and houses on the corner of Wray Avenue and Attfield Street.

I know a few people who have suggested widening Wray Avenue, either to allow better flow of traffic, add bike lanes or accommodate tramlines. I also worry that a conversion to underground power will mean trees have to be felled. Any return to the considerably balder verges of the past would be awful and likely be met with steely resistance.

Many of my neighbours are fiercely proud of the revegetation of Wray Avenue with native trees and the cringe at the idea. I’d actually like to see even more.

There’s so few trees on the streets of south-central Fremantle that they’re an important feature that should be recognised and retained.

Even the olive trees planted by the previous owner of the house next door (number 38) were much hated by my neighbours. One of them – the one in front of my house – was mysteriously chopped down a few years ago. I’m actually rather glad.

 

Roundabouts and intersections

Wray Avenue has been closed down at the west end as the Council put in a new roundabout. It has been nice to have a break from the buses and two way traffic for a bit.

The purpose of the roundabout is to slow traffic down along South Terrace and, for some, to make it easier to get out of Wray Avenue than the current stop sign allows.

I’m not convinced by the idea that it will slow down traffic, at least not by the argument that this is the best, cheapest or only way to achieve it. Part of that comes from the roundabouts easier redistribution of traffic from Wray Avenue and the possible extra traffic this ease will bring.

The Howardians are also concerned that the roundabout will lead to their road becoming a legal throughway (as opposed the the illegal throughway that drivers currently make extensive use of). I’m sympathetic to their concerns.

Foremost in any issues I had with the roundabout, the only issue I really had anyway, was the possible removal of the tree (pictured above) and nearby seat. Thankfully, it looks like these are staying. I’m pretty sure that the plans said that they were but you never can tell with these things.

There was talk about placing some sort of public artwork on the roundabout but, at the local precinct meeting, it failed to garner any consensus. There were disputes about the subject matter, the artist to be commissioned and whether it should even have art on it. I imagine that nothing will happen.

Personally, I’m in favour of the art. Not because it’s a “bold entry statement” but because this is a significant, large and visible part of our public space. Roadways aren’t pretty in anyway, so any attempt to beautify them with trees or artwork is a bonus.

A tree is a bad idea as the roundabout will likely be ripped out in about ten years to accommodate the eventual light rail that will run along South Terrace and possibly up Wray Avenue itself. In that time, a tree won’t have time to establish itself and its demise upon this change will result in a lot of consternation which can easily be avoided.

In pondering the diversity of opinions about the nature of any public artwork I’ve thought of an idea that I think would be rather excellent.

Instead of having an artist (possibly from outside the local area) win the chance to make an artistic statement in one of the most prominent intersections of Fremantle, what should be created is a kind of “artistic space”, like a sculptural blank canvas. Locals could then use the space to make artistic comment.

This has the advantage of changing and evolving over time, reflecting no one person or group’s ideology. As the roundabout is likely only going to be a temporary fixture anyway, this “artistic space” would function in much the same way as derelict buildings attract graffiti This would not be graffiti though as it wouldn’t be derelict space but a space that the community had embraced to invest with their sense of creativity and diversity.

There is enough will and creative energy within the area to ensure that this space became vibrant with quality ideas – anyone walking through the area will know how Robyn from Wild Poppy decorates the space at this intersection, not to mention quality Wray Avenue designers like Madam Bukeshla and Dusty Designs.

I would also like to imagine that the frequently changing space would also cause drivers to slow and observe the space more carefully, achieving the goal that the roundabout is supposed to – calming traffic. I have my doubts that a roundabout in itself will be able to achieve this but with something to cause drivers to be more conscious of their surroundings it may just be possible. A great example of where something similar happens is the Eliza Statue on Mounts Bay Road, Crawley.

Anyway, watch this space – or the space on the roundabout. I think I’ll seek a few people who might give some support in this. If you see it happen, remember that you heard it here first.