A friend pointed out, in a potentially confronting but affectionate reality check, that I’m the prototype of the inner city dweller who looks down on the suburban way of life. You know, that snobby latte sipper who’s said to rain on the parade of everyday Australian suburbanites whenever powerful interests groups want to build a freeway on behalf of said suburbanites?
My friend’s comment was probably justified by a car trip in which me and another friend pulled the shit out of the Glenwaverly to Keysborough stretch of Springvale Road: a tavern advertising Manpower’s imminent visit, homogenous brick houses, ridiculous numbers of chain takeway joints, caravan sale depots, and the Lighthouse Christian church (nothing wrong with religion, just the name – so cheesy).
Anyway, I ended up sheepishly admitting that I suffered from under an unexamined and patronising delusion: life in the city is better than in the suburbs, and if people in the suburbs think they’re happy, then they’re living under some kind of false consciousness. Based on the assumption that everyone likes everything I like, and if they don’t, they should.
Things that I like:
- walking around and seeing different types of landscapes, like crowded strip shop areas with lots of local shops and different types of buildings or houses
- green spaces and rivers
- sharing space with others on public transport (so I can people watch and read my book)
- the physicality and street-life observations of riding a bike
- not having to drive a car, which makes me feel like an automaton
- No outer suburbs have the characteristics listed above.
(but what about, for example, Eltham and Sunbury? I could probably tell you others, if I didn’t know so little about the suburbs that I so joyfully write off).
Logical conclusion to my patronising assumptions: if inner city living was more affordable, most people would move from the suburbs; that if public transport was more accessible, comfortable and convenient, most people would catch public transport.
Reality: I’m not sure. Some aspects of ‘liveability’ and ‘amenity’* are no doubt universal – not having to travel too far to work, or having a park to walk around in. Maybe some of the other things I like are too. If there’s any research out there about it, I’d love to see it. I just don’t have time to find it…
But I’m sure some people don’t want to live right next to other people; they want to have a big backyard for their kids to play in, to build that verandah. Some people actually like driving. Maybe they like the privacy. I hate the privacy. I feel like we have too much privacy. The lack of social interaction and diverse external stimuli is bland and uninspiring.
I’m starting to hate cars, but in a mundanely righteous sort of way. I don’t like their noise, and because I’m often riding my bike, I really see them as a danger. Sometimes I judge car drivers, if they have an easily available option to walk or catch public transport and choose to drive instead.
I’m going to try to stop doing this, because it’s completely stupid. One of my criteria for judgement is environmental, but I do all sorts of things that I know are un-environmental, like sometimes going on two overseas trips a year. I really only ride my bike because it’s easy and I like doing it better. But that’s why people drive their cars too.
A few other things:
Turns out there’s a whole Wikipedia entry on suburbia bashing, ‘a negative discourse about
Australia suburbia that is relatively prominent in Australia’.
My friends started the Suburbanauts, a blog about exploring life in the Melbourne’s suburbs, specifically, shopping strips (i.e. not malls, but little shop clusters). They are the kind of people who have lots of interesting ideas but don’t share them with enough people.
*Ironically both words purport to describe a state which most people want, yet are bureaucratic or academic jargon to people who are not bureaucrats or academics. Could this be a problem with government and policy more generally when they seek to ‘engage’ the ‘stakeholders’?