Monday, August 03, 2009

Soulless Surburbia

I've been reading a few blogs as people in the northern hemisphere enjoy road trips to their quaint past, re-visit their childhood villages in England or prepare for the old fashioned delights of French cottage holidays or indeed just live in picturesque little country towns where there is a sense of unchanging community. People know each other, chat with each other. Go to their 'local' to meet and greet and the same man has owned the sweet shop or the little bakery for ever and ever. Nothing much has changed over past decades.

Working for Landcom has been an education in urban planning for me. With the recent budget stimulus to encourage 'affordable housing' Landcom is madly creating subdivisions in Sydney's outer suburbs. Planned recreation grounds, integrated shops and businesses, sweet little houses that are oh-so-modern and all with predictably kitch names such as Cecil Hills, The Ponds, Newbury and Red Gum. "Excellence in social and environmental sustainability" because they have 'people' in mind. And yes, they're lovely but much like the environs in which I now find myself . . totally without soul or the things that 'make' a community - People actually coming together, interacting and enjoying the facilities built for their use.

My neck of the woods was once all market gardens and bronzed Italians labouring over their brussel sprouts and flower fields and now it's just huge, clean, characterless urban sprawl. Man- made beauty that all of a sudden looks decidedly ugly.

I took my dog and my camera for the Sunday walk was along the usual route. What was once picturesque fields with kiddy constructed cubby houses and arm breaking tyre swings, huge gum trees, winding creeks, riding tracks and ramshackle abandoned homesteads, is now pristine light commercial industrial 'park' and over-priced McMansions but nobody seems to mind building an expensive house in the middle of an office complex, around a fake lake and where all the trees have been felled to maximise land usage. They don't seem to 'enjoy' a sense of community . . .at least on a warm Sunday afternoon.

We left through the back paddock fence. I think Laurie would have liked to come with us but having just had his rug taken off after a week, he promptly found the dirtiest patch in the paddock and rolled in it . . I'm not taking him anywhere dressed like that!



We headed about 200 metres through our back fence onto the yellow brick road which now wends it's artificially planted way towards Bella Vista Homestead . .


To the right, there are expensive McMansions right in the shadow of the Woolworths Head Office, an absolute towering monstrosity. I wouldn't want to be the person who delivers the mail to each department, they'd need a golf cart to get round. Who pays for these $800,000 - $1.2 million houses next to an office block?


We are a "Tidy Town" The place is littered with rubbish bins that nobody uses . . .


Playgrounds so ergonomically correct and risk-free that children don't want to play on them.
I have never seen this one used.


Barbecue / picnic tables that have never hosted a red and white chequered tablecloth let alone a snag in a bun!


Suburban park benches that nobody sits on . . well there's no view, just a park bench on a man-made path lined with man-made gardens, looking over man-made roofage.


The streets are bare. Nobody walking, nobody gardening. Where are they all? And the most significant thing is the lack of sound. Not so much as a dog bark or a child's laugh. Of course these places are so expensive that their inhabitants' children have probably all grown up and moved away. Peering into back yards, I saw lap pools and pergolas, shade cloth entertainment areas and water features but not a single child's plaything or swing.


Oh it's very pretty with a man-made lake and a man-made fountain which is adjacent to a man-made 4 lane boulevard streaming with so much traffic hey had to build a walkway under the road so that people can cross . . .

Man-made offices and man made shops and a bunch of man-made restaurants and we're supposed to believe this emulates a 'harbour' view. Hey, chuck a few ducks on it and we'll have the punters eating out of our hands.


Man-made roundabouts that nobody goes round and man-made gardens with carefully contrived, maintenance-free, drought-hardy native plants and dyed pinebark so that it retains it's red colour. The natural stuff goes grey in days and that would never do.



Back past the roundabout, along the man-made path around the man-made lake and back to my little piece of country. We walked about 5kms and barely saw a soul apart from the Chinese fisherman trying to catch the introduced decorative carp in the man-made lake and a nice elderly couple taking some stale bread to feed the ducks.

Laurie's still there, standing at the back paddock gate an hour or so later . . not happy but eager to check out the camera . . hey, it might be man-made but it could possibly be edible!

41 comments:

otin said...

Everything there is so neat and clean! There is quite a bit of trash on the roadsides here!

tut-tut said...

sigh . . . How are you, Baino? And how does one change the borders so pictures will be bigger? You'll have to let me know.

Alan Burnett said...

What time did you take your walk? The streets are so deserted it looks like it must have been early in the morning. More like a film set than a community.

Baino said...

Not all of Sydney is so neat Otin. I just live in an anal neighbourhood.

Toots I'm just fine thanks. I've sent you Kim's instructions.

Alan it was about 2pm would you believe on a lovely warm Sunday afternoon. Yep, it's very different to the way it was 20 years ago. No people. Too much traffic.

Megan said...

That is kinda creepy looking.

Roy said...

Looks like a ghost town to me. Are you sure somebody really lives there?

Brian Miller said...

i'm kinda with megan here...where are all the people? an empty playground is sad...almost like it has no soul. the quiet you describe...eerie. At least the house isn't man made....there may come a day...

Kath Lockett said...

They could send some of those spunky rubbish bins our way. It seems like our council is allergic to putting out (or emptying) public rubbish bins and there's often garbags of crap dumped at the school, sigh....

Still, you've got lovely Laurie and I dare you to take *him* on your walk next time - I reckon you'd see a few kids then!

hokgardner said...

Makes me glad we live where we do - in a funky central part of Austin. People are out at all hours walking dogs and kids and such, and the school and playground are the heart of the neighborhood.

The neighborhood isn't swishy, and the houses are small and at least 50 years old, but it's all very homey and well used.

GayƩ Terzioglu said...

I just drove through those streets yesterday, and I was amazed by the sterility of it all. I went to the gym to check it out. The Stanhope one. It is new, it is sterile. The lady at the front desk was less than interested in a potential "member". All part of the man-made civilized service with the lack of human-touch or care. Fek that, I thought to myself, I would rather go to the smelly Blacktown pool than be part of this corporate sterile state of the art gym.

California Girl said...

your perspective on the changing landscape is spot on as you all say. I began to experience this horrible new construction, model neighborhood planning in California back in the early eighties. My husband and I left CA in 1977 to live a more rural life near a small city. We moved to the country outside Lexington, KY and lived on a river. We returned to Southern Cal, specifically San Diego, twice after that. We missed it. But it kept changing. I remember moving back there in the late eighties and living in an upper middle class neighborhood/suburb and walking around during the day wondering where everyone was and why their garage doors were all closed? I had two babies, walked them in their carriage, took them to the convenient neighborhood park, took them swimming in the neighborhood pool, all down the block behind a locked fence (for residents only). It was very lonely. We were renters and did not buy there for that very reason. Weird how people want the amenities but don't really participate.

Well put B.

Renee said...

I love Laurie, I think I forgot that you have a horse.

Urban sprawl is everywhere and they are just dead communities. Maybe once the trees grow.....

Love Renee xoxo

Ribbon said...

Great post Baino...
What you have shown us is typical of suburban life all around the western world.... well pockets of it. We know that Sydney like all cities is made up of a variety of urban spaces, but even so suburbia is a big part of its sprawl.

I know somedays I really have to look very hard to see any beauty here in suburban Perth. Blogging has encouraged me to seek beauty more to share.
Perth is possibly the King of tidy town here in Australia. It's our youngest city and you can imagine how ugly that is :)

Thank the heavens for nature as if it was left up to man we would be in serious trouble :)


x Ribbon

Ribbon said...

PS...
we know where all the people are... they're at the beach....
it's Australia for God sake :)

nick said...

I've encountered plenty of sterile developments like that in England, though not so many in NI where traditional communities are stronger. The part of East Belfast we've moved to still has a real sense of community, with lots of street chit-chat and old-fashioned bakeries, hardware shops etc.

River said...

"Chuck a few ducks on it..." Ha Ha. Our man-made suburbs, Mawson Lakes has ducks in it's lake, I went there once looking at display houses, (it's a hobby of mine), and you can hardly walk around the lake without slipping on duck poo.
These new estates do look terribly soulless, but that's only because they haven't had time to develop soul. The people who buy in them are all working their arses off to pay the crippling mortgages, so there isn't time or energy left for a snag-in-a-bun at thta lovely picnic table, and there probably isn't time or money to be having children to use those playgrounds. If there are children they're probably stuck inside with playstations etc, or off somewhere else with sports activities. Soul will come with time. Maybe. I think the biggest mistake in these developments is the lack of a community garden for the older folk to gather in, the occasional "little corner shop" or a couple of cafes to encourage gatherings. It's all housing, with a major shopping centre a couple of suburbs away. Quite sad really, but people have to live somewhere......

Ronda Laveen said...

Souns so Stepfordish. Like the Stepford Wives. Surreal. I like Laurie though. A male horse w/a female name?

Cinnamon said...

You are the soul there Baino!

Lorna Lilo said...

I bet they have swingers parties. It's the quiet suburbs you gotta watch.

Grow Up said...

Indeed, I live in moderately soulless suburbia, but close enough to the Wicklow Mountains (say that to a Swiss and watch them laugh) that there is a modicum of wilderness virtually on my doorstep. My inner caveman wants more though.

Baino said...

It was creepy Megs. I usually run into another dog walker or something. The main road was pretty quiet too! Maybe there was something on last Saturday night and I wasn't invited!

Roy I have a theory that they've spent all their dough, they're strapped for cash and all inside watching their plasma TVs

Brian I've never seen a kid playing on it. It's too ergonomic and dull. There is one in the older part of Kellyville that's always packed, it's brightly coloured with swings and tubes and a flying fox, just what kids want.

Kath it's a bit misleading. There's plenty of grungy areas, it's just this particular estate is like Stepford!

Heather there are places like that in Sydney, lots of them but not this one. It's just over designed and over contrived.

You drove by and didn't drop in Gaye! Big smack! Oh hai! I was out walking the dog.

It's sad Cali . .but the estates are so sterile. And you're right, little pockets of houses with huge fences screaming, 'don't come in'. There are security signs everywhere. Even my own street is 'blocked off' by one of these new developments. I can't walk through because they went bankrupt and are concerned that the tradies are going to pinch their fittings back so it's patrolled 24/7 until they're all sold! Criminal. I pay rates and can't walk down my own street!

Renee he's a sweet old thing. He talks a great deal and is a bit of a sticky beak. But he's filthy and it's too cold for me to give him a wash. Next hot day he's in for it! It was just such a lovely day and they really don't like having their rugs on to much. I watched them knock all the trees down. There's only a few, strategically placed. We couldn't possibly have leaves in our gutters now! (not like my place, I've got weeds growing out f my gutters! Seriously)

Ribbon I haven't been to Perth since I was a girl but I imagine it to be pretty pristine. At least you don't have to go too far either side to see the really pretty towns and sights. Must get over there one of these days. I'd like to go to Margaret River . . .

You're fortunate Nick. When I sell here, I've got my eye on the Northern Beaches, people get out and about more. It's dog friendly and very leisureley. None of this keep up with the Joneses.

Yeh and they're white puddle ducks too . .except for the odd wood duck or pacific black. River I'm just stunned that people pay such big money to live in what's essentially an estate in the middle of an industrial park. If I had 1.9 mill, I wouldn't be living there. New money and no taste. Although you'd have a ball in the display homes!

Rhonda it is very Stepford. Laurie is actually an old Arab Gelding . .his real name is Lasalle Royal Flash but 'flasher' didn't suit him although he does it often! We were going to rename him when he first arrived but he knows his name so we left it. The other is a Welshy called Yorkston Classic but he likes chips so he's Chippy. He's only friendly when there's food about!

Awww Cinnamon that's sweet. Maybe they hide inside when they see me and a floppy lab cruising the streets . .perhaps it's the camera!

Hello Lorna . .that's the best blog name I've seen in a while! And I really don't want to know what they're doing to their chandelliers!

Baino said...

Sorry GrowUp, snuck in there. Actually that's the beauty of Ireland. . .well Europe . .small distances to travel into the country. I'm lucky I can drive about 40 minutes and immerse myself in six finger territory but the mountains are a good hour and a half away. Being on the last 5 acre blocks adjacent to the CBD we have a little bit of paradise for a while anyway.

Baino said...

The irony of it all is that I want to sell so they can build more of them. It's my retirement fund!

Sandy Kessler said...

Thanks for the walk point well taken- I sometimes long for what it used to be..I loved the view sandy

Bimbimbie said...

Tsup*!* I've got a family of four or five little people living next door and I'm beginning to think they might be the only ones in the whole of Australia who like to play and yell as kids should ... but why do they do it when I'm just about to record a bird singing ... sigh ;)

PS Would you please let your planners know to hide the ugly fences that are coraling suburbia with trees and bushes please!

Kate said...

mmmmm and what happened to the bronzed Italians - thats what I want to know!!!

Jill said...

You are SO RIGHT ON! And, it is quite sad that this disinfected area is not inhabited with happy, interested, INTERACTING people! How do you PLAN for unity and community? Answer that and you are SUPREME!

I love the "snag in a bun" which we do not use here!

The photo of Laurie makes this post ABSOLUTELY charming!!!!

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you, baino... 'progress' just sucks!

a long time ago, american poet/folk singer, malvina reynolds penned a song, 'little boxes', that showed how things were even back then...

here is pete seeger's version:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AN3rN59GlWw

Grannymar said...

Years ago houses were built in rows separated by the road, giving you the opportunity to see your neighbours coming and going. Now in these modern estates each house faces a different direction and people can drive from inside their garages without walking outside to get into the car.

Baino said...

No going back Sandy. Maybe in 20 years time it will have developed some character.

I dunno Bimbimbie, a nice box hedge won't stop those burglars from pinching the plasmas. If we didn't have so many expensive materialistic items, there'd be no incentive for break ins.

Not sure Kate. We used to be known affectionately as "Wogsville" these days the Italians have given way to wealthy Indian and Chinese businesspeople.

Jill what's interesting (and I hear these conversations all day) is that the planners of these blocks are babes in arms. All seem to be under 40 and childless but putting their education to good use planning for families. They mean well but just don't understand 'community'.

I nearly posted that actually Wuffa but preferred he nosey horse! Cheers:)

...mmm... said...

Boy, it does look souless--especially that playground and park bench. There is no sense of intimacy at all. Trees nd big shrubs help a lot and help cool things down a bit.

Colette Amelia said...

and the problem with the development is that it is propping up everywhere! So if you find a community that has some soul and you move there there is a good chance that the developers will be there soon to "fix" it.

you can run but you can't hide.

Renee said...

Helen your Dad was so lucky to have you fight in his corner with him. I am sure he loved you so much.

Love Renee xoxo

subtorp77 said...

I do so miss living in the country-side ***SIGH***

steph said...

All so true, Baino

You could always get yourself a man-made 'man' to complete the picture ;-)

Laurie looks like a happy camper anyhow.

Vita said...

I remember when the walk to the original Bella Vista was an adventure...then along came the barbarians over the hill. The 'hole in the donut' ever diminishing.....

unstranger said...

Looks like the the Stepford Valley!

laughingwolf said...

nazdarovja ;) lol

Christopher said...

My parents moved to a “gated community” in Florida several years ago, and this reminded me of some of the early morning bike rides I’ve taken through their neighborhood—although part of the point of a gated community seems to be sterility. Very few families there have young children. They’re mostly retired people who moved to the new development to get away from children and spend most of their time manicuring their lawns (and complaining if the neighbors’ yards aren’t perfectly tidy).

This also reminds me of my own neighborhood which used to have a lovely wooded area at the end of the street, essentially protecting the neighborhood from one of the major interstates that runs right by it. A few years ago the property owner died and commercial developers bought the property. I asked our local representative if anything could be done to prevent the woods from being turned into a shopping center. Her response was, essentially, “Even if I opposed it I couldn’t stop it from happening.” I was tempted to ask what the bloody hell was the point of even having a representative, but realized it was futile.

Gledwood said...

hey what a cute horsey!

I quite like that "harbour view"... we never get views like that here. They're more built up and urbanized and the water's gloopy green with rotting yogurt cartons and dead rats floating in it...
And we almost never get spectacularly clear enough days to make them photograph that well...

Bella Sinclair said...

Dearest Baino,

Thank you so much for your heartfelt and beautiful message. I'm very sorry to hear about your own loss. You give me courage and hope and strength. Thank you. You are so right. My children have kept me moving forward. They give me reason to smile every day. I am so grateful for them and for you and all the wonderful people I have met who have offered their support.

I enjoyed taking this stroll around your neighborhood with you. The sound of laughing children and merry gardeners and neighbors may be missing, but still, there is a lot of beauty and tranquility to enjoy.

xoxo
bella