But where are the people? This was very often a question asked during the time we had foreign students living with us. We lived in Balmain. It is a suburb which many Australians would classify as having medium to high density living. We always look back with fondness of the twenty years we lived there. It is the place where our children grew up. So, how come this question; but where are the people?
The foreign students came from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Germany with a couple from Holland. The question has to be looked at from the perspective of living in cities. Australia right from the start understood it had space. Space was lacking in England, especially in the big smoked filled cities. Thus the suburban block here was soon to be seen as desirable for people to be housed on. At the beginning, people lived in terrace houses joined together forming complete streets. Balmain was one of those earlier suburbs of Sydney with streets of terrace houses. Parks were everywhere and it still felt very spacious.
However, the foreign students came from cities that were teeming with people. They would form throngs on the streets. I am sure that those that have been to Asia understand there is a huge difference between density of people there in cities compared to here in Australia. It were those people on the streets that the students were sorely missing, even in inner city Balmain.
My parents soon after arrival in 1956 went to live in western Sydney. Real Estate agents and blocks of land were the main topics of conversation amongst the migrants. We too were swept up into saving a deposit for our ‘own’ block of land. There was no real understanding of the social consequences in making a choice of where to live. To be near a rail-station was desirable but as for other desirable needs, it just wasn’t about or questioned. Migrants had a need to have a roof and security of an income, all else was secondary. It was like a fever. One got caught up in the frenzy of making a new life. It was all a bit puzzling for my dad. He was different.
The street that my parents ended up living in was like millions of suburban streets anywhere in Australia. There were people living in houses but you would rarely see them. It felt achingly lonely. Sometimes a curtain would stir or a car would drive by. For me it was deadly, spiritual dehydration. Sure, the petunias and rockeries were plenty. Rosellas would be screeching and flying about and then there was cracker night. This was a yearly event with bon-fire on the street, somehow mysteriously related to Guy Fawkes or something. It was an occasion for neighbours to meet up. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes
All this in response to having read a lecture by Hugh MacKay. He is a well know social commentator. “The State of the Nation starts in your Street.”
It seems to fit in what is happening with all that card swiping and waving at poles. We are forced to dealing with less and less people. Banking is done silently in front of an ATM. People buy food on-line and sit at home all sated and possibly overweight. The steel posts at rail stations. Most work will finally be done by steel posts and robots. Soon we might go to bed enjoying the icy embrace of a steel post or with a rotating robot with a waving of cards giving consent to heaven knows what sexual delights
I don’t know what can be done to liven up lonely suburban streets. My mum did her best and was fearless in her search for social contact. It was difficult. All those Venetian blinds and that obsession with privacy. A sign of change is that most people now prefer an apartment close to the city. People do seem to want to live close to each other, able to walk to shops and work. People need people.
We shall see!