Thursday, August 14, 2008

Creative Suburbia?

We are about to commence an Australian Research Council - Discovery grant on Creative Suburbia. The question we are asking is whether more of Australia's creative workforce is located in the outer suburbs of Australia's cities than is commonly assumed in the creative industries literature, which has tended to emphasise the unique powers of inner-city 'buzz'. And if they are, how do they network and organise their professional relationships?

The team involved includes myself, Professor Phil Graham (QUT), Dr. Christy Collis (QUT) and Dr. Mark Gibson (Monash). Dr. Emma Felton will also be working with us on the project. Intended research sites at this stage include the Redcliffe and Springfield areas of South-East Queensland, and the City of Casey in South-East Melbourne.

I'll keep you posted on developments via this blog among other places, but a piece by Shaun Carney in today's The Age gives a sense of some of the issues, althoguh his focus is on petrol prices and politics.

Leftists who sneer at suburbs betray Labor

Shaun Carney
August 13, 2008 - 12:00AM

Last week in this space I argued that cleaner, greener cars should be a more important part of Australia's effort to reduce carbon emissions than an increase in public transport. In making the point, I suggested that people in the inner suburbs who found this shocking could benefit by taking the nearest train to the end of the line to see how hard it is for people in the outer suburbs to do without their cars.

This was a mistake because it implied that Melbourne's outer suburban belt was accessible by rail. In fact, it extends way beyond the metropolitan train system.

Recently, for family reasons, I've been spending time in Carrum Downs. For those who don't know, Carrum Downs is a suburb of about 18,000 people north-east of Frankston. When I knew it back in the 1970s, it was made up of paddocks and a mushroom farm. Now it's so substantial that it has its own secondary school and its retail hub calls itself the Carrum Downs Regional Shopping Centre.

You cannot get to the suburb by train. There are connecting buses from Frankston that snake their way through the suburbs in between, making it a very long journey. It would be very difficult to get around if you lived in Carrum Downs and did not have a car.

There are those who will say that places such as Carrum Downs should never have been developed, that urban sprawl is overloading our resources and making not just Melbourne but Sydney, and probably several other capitals, unworkable. There might be something to that argument but the question is: what happens to the hundreds of thousands of people who already live in Carrum Downs and Caroline Springs and Berwick and Roxburgh Park?

If you live within 15 kilometres of the city and have a tramline running right past your door, or a station nearby, as did many of those readers who were offended by last week's column, you could say it's not your problem. To be a car user is, one letter-writer observed, a planet-destroying "lifestyle choice".

Indeed, you could adopt a position that finds its way into letters to the editor and even the occasional opinion piece: the sneer. This assumes that outer suburbanites are less intelligent, less engaged and generally less enlightened than those of us who are closer to, you know, where it's all happening. From what I can see, it comes more often from the broader leftist end of the political spectrum than from the right.

Aside from being a betrayal of a genuine progressive perspective and just plain wrong, it represents a misreading of where electoral power lies in our society. Governments are made and broken in the outer suburbs. For decades now, the major political parties have relied on their traditional bases of support in the inner and middle suburbs — the older residential belts established up to the Second World War — to act as their electoral bedrock.


In Melbourne particularly, some parts of the inner suburbs are becoming very slippery territory for the ALP as the Greens become ever more popular. How does Rudd satisfy inner urban Labor sympathisers who want radical action on climate change while also holding on to shaky Labor voters in the outer suburbs who want something done but aren't so keen on the radical option and don't enjoy being lectured by people who have many more facilities than they have? Increasingly, Rudd presides over two tribes. Come the next election, they might just go to war.

No comments: