Sense of place, distinctiveness…and Brisbane

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 I took this this photograph last week, and I am sure you are thinking ‘why on earth did she post that?’  That’s the reason.  Precisely.  It’s an instantly forgettable, modern urban cityscape, filled with hard surfaces, cars, advertising signs and shops.

It makes me feel sad.

Unless I tell you where it was taken, you’d be forgiven for having no clue about the location.  While I happened to be somewhere in Brisbane, it could just as easily be any other capital city in Australia or the US.  (I’m sure this type of development is in Europe too, but I’m confining my comment to what I have personally seen).  The major stores are the same, the predominance of the private car is the same, the architecture (if you can call it that) is the same.  The only hint of difference is the palm trees, which suggests that I was not in Hobart.  But I could conceivably have been anywhere in Queensland or northern NSW.  In my view, the vegetation was the only part of this visual experience that redeemed it from total despair.  These cityscapes are neither kind to the environment, gentle on the eyes and display not one whit of creativity.  Unfortunately, they are ubiquitous and we all accept them as normal.

Instead, the places we flock to on holidays or seek out for special events, are the opposite.  The parts of Brisbane that people take their visiting relatives to are precisely the places that mark themselves out from the uniform blandness that characterises most of the city.  When I went travelling this year, I wanted to see what was specific to that place.  What was specific and particular to Padua, or St Just in Penwith that gives me a vantage point, however small and partial, to the history and culture of that place?  Both towns of course predate the modern era, and therein lies part of the answer. 

How did this state of affairs come about?  At the risk of gross oversimplification, I think the answer is global capitalism.  Although, it probably started out innocently enough.  I don’t think anyone woke up one morning and said ‘I’m going to pioneer a type of retailing that sucks the living juice out of a place and creates the blandest, most banal and depressing streetscape that I can’.  That is what we got though, in the fullness of time.  It’s the type of streetscape that results from prioritising cars and goods over people.

These are our everyday spaces.  And because of that, they affect us more deeply than we perhaps imagine.  Do you want to linger in that place?  Does it feel inviting?  Of course not.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there!  So is there a solution?  Certainly not one that can be delivered in a blog post.  But I’d suggest to you, as participants in the relentless orgy of consumerism that is global capitalism, to vote with your feet.  Don’t go there, if you can possibly avoid it.   

PS: I was outside the Raby Bay Marina.

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