How art helped reclaim city streets
Picture: Tenae Francis

The arts have been credited with cleaning up Northbridge, with police praising the record crowds at the various festivals for their good behaviour.

Insp. Craig Parkin, the officer in charge at Perth police station, said he did not allocate any extra resources to cope with the thousands of extra people on the streets and officers did not have to attend a single incident stemming from either Fringe World or the Perth International Arts Festival.

This was despite alcohol being served at most Fringe venues and two large pop-up outdoor bars in Russell Square and the Perth Cultural Centre.

The four-week Fringe World ends tomorrow but its popular bar in the Urban Orchard will run for another fortnight.

Insp. Parkin said police looked forward to a relatively peaceful six weeks between the Australia Day long weekend and the Labour Day long weekend, when PIAF comes to an end.

"We get a lot more people into the city but the demographics are generally those who we don't have to deal with from a policing perspective," he said.

"People who come in to the Fringe festival or PIAF go to a particular event or two events and then they will go home. There are no alcohol issues associated with it and we certainly don't see any drug issues."

Year-round assaults in the Perth subdistrict were down 10 per cent and people's long-held stereotypes about Northbridge were wearing thin, he said.

Insp. Parkin, who also lives in the central city, said continued arts investment was a proactive way to enliven the city and make it less attractive for people looking to start trouble.

"There is a different feel within the city and you can just sense that when you're out and about in the streets."

Event organisers said about 300,000 had attended the Fringe, which has grown rapidly in just three years to be the fourth biggest in the world after Edinburgh, Adelaide and Brighton.

Fringe director Amber Hasler said it was gratifying to know that organisers' intentions to revitalise urban areas, bring WA artists to wider attention and attract more diverse audiences were bearing fruit.

"We keep hearing from people who say that Russell Square has never looked lovelier and it has been a great oasis to have in Northbridge," Ms Hasler said.

A highlight had been families and older people enjoying the "pilgrimage" along James Street between the two Fringe hubs, she said.

Australian Hotels Association WA chief executive Bradley Woods said the festival season brought enormous business activity and foot traffic to Northbridge and the city.

He said the AHA's 120 members in the area, which include restaurants, small bars, hotels and pubs, had received a distinct benefit as the festivals had grown over the past three years.

"The festival broadens the diversification of visitors to the area," Mr Woods said.

"People that otherwise wouldn't patronise Northbridge, because maybe of a longer-term perception that it is not safe, realise and see that it's actually not too bad."

One such convert is Manning resident Marie Walker, who felt safe enough to bring her daughter and mother into Northbridge on Thursday night.

The family saw the Fringe World mermaids show, then had drinks at the Pleasure Garden before dinner at the food hall.

"My focus is going out with my family and having a safe place I can take my little girl where there are things to do and things to see," Mrs Walker said.

"I think the more things that are happening on the street, the more people that are around, the more things there are to do, the safer it is. It's that passive surveillance factor."

Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker compared Perth's "stunning" transformation with that of a middle-aged Anglo Saxon man in a suit morphing into a sassy, confident, skilled and adorned burlesque dancer.

Major infrastructure projects were the essential backbone of any city but the "soft infrastructure" of culture was what brought a place alive, she said.

"The hard stuff is just one part of the equation - it is the things that happen in between where vibrant and spontaneous cities are created," Ms Fulker said.

She praised the use of performance tents, pop-up bars and other novel venues that had turned the underused Russell Square into a hub of activity.

The Chamber of Arts and Culture said the overlapping festivals showed how Perth's atmosphere could be lifted with a little investment, bold programming and a large serving of arts activity.

Both Fringe World and PIAF had fired the public imagination and fed their appetite for diverse cultural experiences, chamber chairman Warwick Hemsley said.

"The festivals are also great examples of government and private sector support for the arts, but our challenge is to not let the festival fizz go flat," he said. "Stakeholders have to continue to support the large range of organisations and artists providing arts and cultural activities all year round. They don't go into hibernation when the festivals end."

The West Australian

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