Defining Melbourne

I listened to this week’s podcast while on the train heading from my peri-urban home into the heart of Melbourne CBD. It was like watching a narrated documentary as the city passed the window. Luckily the podcast was just the right length. And hence my lengthy response this week.

My morning involves both “Town and Country”. I hope my wife is not “shaggier” than my “acorn-belching” ways (p47). As my train makes its way into the “city”, the scene out the window constantly changes. The authors of this week’s readings point out, cities are forever changing.

My journey starts with scenes of farmland, bush, kangaroos and thousands of sheep. Within 15 minutes the train crosses the newly expanded metropolitan “boundary”. This line is defined by rows of little new little brick veneer houses and bulldozers ripping at the red earth, making room for more profits, sorry homes.

“Town and Country” almost describes what I see on my daily journey. Scattered groups gathered in ‘peoples’ nature is disregarded and build houses in groups for security, just like the new housing estates in the outer fringes of the city.

Then train thrusts into the older western suburbs. Which as has been built, rebuilt and in the process of being rebuilt again? Not only are the houses lost, but some of the visual history and stories that formed once tight-knit communities. The Mediterranean immigrants that settled in these areas influenced these cities within cities. The Greeks, Maltese and Italians cultured together with a single purpose of a new life after the war. Their stories helped shape Melbourne’s collective identity. The way they saw this new place gave rise to the ontology of these robust and hard-working communities.

The Industrial Zone

The train travels on; houses give way to industrial zones, where the surrounding population worked hard for generations to afford their quarter-acre block. Without the nearby residences, this industrial city would not have developed and Vise Versa. As industry and technology changed, so did the people and their connections to space and place. A new economy has been born to clean up the toxic waste, demolish the old and to build the new.

The industrial areas merge into a new landscape of new concrete and glass apartment buildings bring new life to the tired inner city. These talk volumes of new visible wealth (or debt) of the inner-city dweller. My phenomenology creates summons up an ontology for these new apartment inhabitants.

Then the train trundles through the rail yards, a cartesian boundary of Melbournes Central Business District. The skyline out the window is now filled with glass towers with residents descending into the city streets. The baristas have warmed up the coffee machines to kick off the daily local economy and buzz of opinions and gossip. Like in Town and Country “the bright conversation of the town never really strays far from its quite inward concern with property and income.” (p53). Michel de Certeau relates being a top of the World Trade Towers in New York as to be “lifted from the city’s grasp”. I see as a change from home to the work persona and with it, our relationship to the city.

The Collective

I travel through the collective of open spaces, suburbia and industrial spaces. Each collection has a discourse, yet people connect them. AbdouMaliq Simone sums it up in City life from Jakarta to Dakar “But any collective is a collection. As a collection, each component has to deal with the others, but they also have a life outside the collection, something that came before and that is ongoing” (pg7).

I could keep writing. Can a city be genuinely be defined? There is no real beginning or end beyond what can be indicated on a map. Even concept cities are born from relationships to other places.