I was chatting with Leila last night about ideas for posts for this blog, and many of of the ideas she came up with related to things that she would want to know about the city. Interestingly, it’s similar for me – and perhaps one of the main reasons why I want to write this blog is to learn a lot more about the details of a city that I created, often without thinking too deeply over what I was doing. I’m sure there will be many occasions where I go “hmm… that really doesn’t work and needs to be changed”, but perhaps that’s a really useful thing to happen.
One thing Leila was keen on finding out was where the “funky” parts of the city would be. Not necessarily the downtown areas, but the parts of the city having interesting transitions from being “down and out” in the post-industrial 1970s to revitalised. Full of cafes, bars, interesting independent shops, but with a density of people at all hours of the day to make it feel like a safe and welcoming place to be. Often these parts of the city have a “funk” that is more nostalgic than real, due to an advanced state of gentrification, although it is often the well-off creatives that push the less well-off creatives out of the area.
A part of my city just to the east of the central area seems to fit the description reasonably well: The intricate street network, overlaid with broader arterials (yellow lines) and strongly served by a variety of underground metro lines (the bright overlaid lines), indicate that we’re looking at a pretty intense urban area here. Perhaps something that was originally developed in the mid-19th century, as the streets aren’t as narrow and as all over the place as we saw in the historic centre.
Proximity to one of the city’s main rail terminals (bottom left corner) and a major tertiary institute (just to the east of the station) have probably driven the development of the area over time. The major east-west motorway crossing the southern part of the area is likely to have been put through in the 1950s or 1960s, potentially causing major severance for the neighbourhood and perhaps precipitating a decline in its attractiveness during the 1970s and 1980s as people shifted out to more distant suburban areas. I haven’t really thought too much about the staging of constructing the city’s subway/metro network, but perhaps the Blue Line could have been one of the later lines and become a catalyst for the area’s revitalisation. The map below shows (in the red box) where this area falls in relation to the urban area as a whole, and the very centre of the city (illustrated by the red dot): There are some interesting neighbourhoods to look at internationally to get a feel for what the area might be like. Boston in particular has a series of inner suburban areas which have undergone significant revitalisation in recent decades. The North End area is the oldest bit of Boston, was cut off from the rest of the city by an elevated freeway for many years, is a really high density neighbourhood, a lot of ethnic diversity in its history and certainly, when I visited it back in 2010, felt like a pretty happening and funky place. Here’s an aerial of the area: While parts of North End are quite touristy, due to it being the oldest part of Boston, much of the area looks like this: Perhaps the older parts of this section of the city could be like North End. The inner west part of Sydney also has the kind of characteristics that may be present in the area – although you can see the street pattern is a bit more regular and planned, perhaps suggesting a later construction date: The housing typology here is quite a mix too, from standalone dwellings to terraced houses to apartment buildings. It also seems like there’s quite a bit of of “house above the shop”, which is a useful form of mixed use development. Here are a couple of Google Streetview images of this part of Sydney’s inner west: And for more residential areas: Obviously, looking at both the North End of Boston and Sydney’s inner west, one striking characteristic is the predominance of older buildings. These places aren’t “fake funky”, created in recent times and master-planned to be just the way it is. Instead, the places have an obvious and complex history. They have had their ups and downs. They’re now popular, but perhaps there are still a few student flats amongst the yuppies, with couches out on the porch.
The interaction between the parts of the area that would look like each of the three above photos would also be fascinating and funky. With the kind of residential density created by the “North End-like” areas, there would be plenty of support for shops and other amenities. The fuzzy boundaries between the different areas would be indicative of the area’s general location as a halfway point between the very high density downtown area and the lower density surrounding inner suburbs. Perhaps the lower density areas have been retained for their heritage characteristics, whereas the market may have otherwise replaced them with apartments – but maybe elsewhere the protection mechanisms weren’t there at the time, leading to an interesting mix of the old and new, in parts.
Overall, I like these parts of the city and one of the saddest things about some cities is the strong division between the downtown and its surrounding areas. The interaction and blending of the city centre and the inner suburbs creates funky urban places, places that change significantly over time, yet have great bones in terms of their built form and their street network, to survive these changes and eventually prosper.
This is certainly a part of the city that I’d like to live in.