Wednesday, January 21, 2009


How much of our world do we really care about? What could be gone tomorrow without causing us any pain (putting aside anything that we currently depend on to make a living). I drove through Melbourne yesterday, and had to make a big arc from the inner suburbs through the arid north-west along the Western Ring Road, then to a few stops in West Footscray, then to Spotswood on the banks of the river, then to Yarraville and into the city along New Footscray Road and Docklands, and then to Dandenong and Lynbrook in the far south-east before the two hour drive back to Foster.

So much of Melbourne, new Melbourne, built since nineteen-fifty and especially since nineteen-ninety is just plain awful. Docklands is a miserably ugly and pathetic joke and its apartment buildings monuments to greed, social isolation and a culture that needs to spend as much time as possible looking at entertainment on screens to avoid seeing where and how it actually lives. The new and incredibly expensive ferris wheel there has all the aesthetic appeal of a safety cover on a drain, only on a grotesque scale. It gives its riders a wonderful view of what can only be described as the most inhuman unlovely semi-industrial landscape that the devil himself could have devised in co-operation with Australia's finest property developers, civil engineers, thuggish politicians, ethics-free architects, planners and an army of concretors, scaffolders, crane drivers and plumbers whose last aesthetic impulses had been beaten out of them at primary school or through a steady diet of crap TV and junk food. And it's all cost an absolutely staggering amount of money: ie lifetimes of work and natural resources. And how many people give a damn about any of it, would feel it carries great spiritual meaning for them? Not too many I would be sure. And how much will be of any utility at all without lashings of cheap fuel? Hah!

Many parts of Melbourne, generally those built before eighteen-ninety, are beautiful. And people feel strongly about them and will fight to preserve them. Yes I know there were lots of unlovely inner suburbs which might be full of madly-renovating young professionals now, but which were pretty much unloved until the seventies. Tastes change. But who will give a damn now or in the future if Jeff's Shed, or Dockland Stadium, or the Bolte Bridge, or any of the huge retail complexes in the City, or the nightmarish ones at Southland or Chadstone, Knox or Northland were to be demolished.

I see pretty much eye-to-eye with Jim Kunstler when it comes to modern architecture and the tragedy of suburban sprawl. None of us will care enough to save it when its hour comes, and that hour is soon. Then the best that will be said about it is that it will serve as a convenient mine of building materials for the generations, much diminished I fear from our present swollen numbers, who will come after us.

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