I feel like a grump. An urban grouch.
Here I am sitting in my city apartment, listening to the happy sound of empty bottles being dumped into the industrial bins below my bedroom window and wondering why on earth people would chose to live anywhere else. I like it here. The city centre has been my neighbourhood for a long time now. Though I am a product of suburbia, I can no longer imagine it as a place to live. Home is here, tucked in at the corner of Russell and Flinders.
Apparently, though, I shouldn’t be so content. As a dweller, I’m abnormal. Marginal. Out of step with real Australia. Here in the most ‘relentlessly suburban’ nation on earth, my residential ideal should include ‘the buzz of bees, the sweet smell of mown grass and children playing in the garden with a dog yapping at their heels.’ Because it doesn’t, I am dismissed as one of those central city elites, the ‘affluent minority’ that knows nothing of the aspirations of ordinary Australians. There is, apparently, a stark social divide, and here I am standing on the wrong side of the fence.
You think? Really?
I’ve just finished reading the beautifully produced book Home–Evolution of the Australian Dream: An Illustrated Review of Housing in Australia. Written by three notable architects / urban planners, it’s an exploration of the ‘dwelling’ as the basic element of our cities. As such, it presents an interesting picture of residential life in Australia and its overwhelmingly suburban forms. Further, it highlights the challenges we face in meeting the ever-increasing demand for housing across the nation.
I am grumpy, but not because this is a bad book. Granted, it’s not as revelatory as I had hoped when I first saw it, but I bow down to the combined expertise of these three voices, most especially for their insightful review of the history of housing types in Oz. I am grumpy because, yet again, I feel as though my own housing choice is treated as some sort of apparition, and one that illustrates a cultural divide rather than a legitimate alternative for healthy neighbourhood living.
It’s true: the authors don’t intend to do this. In fact, they argue for accepting a range of housing choices in Australia, but along the way the ‘normalisation’ of suburbia leaves all other choices somehow marginal or insignificant when seeking to understand Australian residential culture. In my view, it’s the diversity that is much more telling about the health and well-being of our cities than the normalising of one housing type over all. The truth is, while city apartment living may still be a minority choice, the staggering growth of residential life in Melbourne’s heart over the past two decades is nothing short of extraordinary. This is opportunity, not apparition.
And as for that ‘affluent minority’ that calls the city home … I can only say the writers really should get out more!