Saturday, November 26, 2011

Who'll join me in savouring the twilight of these prosperous times, when we can all indulge in the freedoms afforded by car ownership ? Let the party roll on and the main-ies continue until the car inevitably careers over the peak oil precipice we've been hooning and doing burnouts around for years. 

The time will come when we'll be forced to join the lowly ranks of the users of public transport. It's a frightening prospect to be over a barrel, reduced to using Brisbane City Council buses, Queensland Rail trains, or god forbid, City Cycle bikes to crawl our way out of the suburbs to the bright lights of the city. 

Taking a trip on a BCC bus is a grim experience, beginning with the jittery paranoia that seizes people as they wait at a bus stop, turning ordinary citizens into agitated clock-watchers, gripped with fear that their service won't show up on time. Or worse, it will wizz straight past in a cloud of hot air, leaving them helpless on the kerb, squinting to read the bus route number that they'll have to wait another hour to catch. "Was that the 360?" one commuter will cry out wildly to no one in particular, "Are you waiting for the 360 too?" she will begin interrogating fellow blank-faced commuters as they tighten their sweaty grip on their GO cards.

When the lucky few whose right bus shows up on schedule, there is the dilemma to hail or not to hail. Hail, and risk being chided by an angry driver for breaking the code of practice when it comes to bus beckoning etiquette. Or don't hail, and risk not getting home, left in a waft of natural gas emissions from a disappearing rear end.

After staring down the driver, hoping he will stop the bus somewhere within running distance of where the passengers are standing, it's a race to clamber aboard before the doors snap shut. Once inside, hands aflutter, the passengers wave GO cards around like a troupe of travelling croupiers, the beeping and flashing of the card reader no less transfixing than the pokies. Meanwhile, the beleaguered bus driver takes command of the wheel, speeding to the next stop, sparing no compassion for the jangling line of commuters lurching up the aisle, falling with their bags and belongings into the nearest available seat. And yet, in a moment, it would appear no great inconvenience has befallen them as each passenger duly fishes their earphones from their bag and plugs into blissful electronica. And that's saying nothing about the ruinous blight on civil society that is the MX!

Mercifully, most of us will arrive at our destination not too adversely affected by the indecencies of BrizVegas public transportation. Although, sometimes, it feels as if the suburban bus interchanges are little more than lawless outpost of civilisation, bereft of humanity, lorded over by itinerant misfits, single mothers and cashed-up Gen Zs bearing iPhones. The future looks bright.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Icons are a big deal for Queensland, a place with an insatiable preoccupation for self-promotion. Much of our market branding is focused on big-bang tourism, like the Ekka, giant steaks and the Big Pineapple. Secretly, we also enjoy claiming rights over having the highest rate of shark attacks or the shame of having borne Pauline Hanson.  

Few would argue against the worthiness of the Queenslander house as an icon of our state, unless you are a certain type of architect, blithely seeking some self-promotion of your own. Sitting cheek-to jowl, Queenslanders in Brisbane are the making of some of the city’s prettiest inner-city suburban streets. Often humble in their beginnings, these timber homes now innocuously house people from every strata of socio-economic background. 

The truth is, not all Queenslanders may follow the Broncos, but every Queenslander wants to do up / rent / raise / landscape / live in a Queenslander house of his own, whether he admits it or not.

Of course, it hasn’t always been the case, as the proliferation throughout the last century of brick, concrete and masonry houses attest. Many even possess charm and character equal to that of the Queenslander. The elegant simplicity of the art deco era and trippy geometry of 1960s are just a couple of examples of desirable historical aesthetics all of which, for the ease of real estate literature, fall under the broad category of ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’.

When there's always the option to build from scratch, I’m curious why some of us can be so drawn to live in a home which reflects the passing trend of a particular era.

First, let’s consider the desire for the unique. The potential home-owner wants a sweet little worker’s cottage in Paddington with personality, because in some sense, it is a rejection of the indignity of sameness in the style of affordable cookie-cutter housing out in the endless suburban boon docks. However, this theory crumbles when one looks at the original intent of the Queenslander worker’s cottage as cheap, functional, undifferentiated suburban home. When first built, their fresh immaturity might have seemed disquietingly not like a home, but a place to subsist. Only in their modern-day context within a landscape of mature trees, piece-meal backyard sheds and generations of familial personality do they acquire an authenticity. I wonder if the future affluent will aspire to a house in North Lakes 50 years hence . . .

Is the reason we are charmed by the old and familiar because of what they inherently are, old and familiar ? Have we become a city drunk on the future promise of recompense from all the years spent detouring around perpetual quarries of construction, driven to cling desperately to the comforting buoys of historicity in a sea of precast concrete and steel ? The truth may lie somewhere in that Queenslander homes, and other such characterful architectural icons, anchor us sentimentally to a period when there was more richness, sincerity and time for consideration, in life, as well as design. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Not since the news that Jack Vigden, won Australia’s Got Talent has the announcement of a competition winner so captivated a nation. And so it was, that yesterday, we plebs of BrizVegas found out the winning design of the new City Cat ferry terminals to replace those that famously floated downstream to the fatuous commentary of Karl Stefanovic.

In the end, like all good competitions, it proved a farcical non-competition won by the team producing the most conservative design and having the best networking skills.

While we are blessed not to be subjects voting in the predetermined election of a Middle Eastern dictator, there is more than a little vexation over the fact that the ferry terminal competition, it seemed rigged from the start and failed to address most of the objectives of Anna Bligh’s initial call to design. She told us this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to build a series of iconic and unique ferry terminals that would laud BrizVegas’s self-appointed status as custodian of arts and culture. Sure, we believe you Anna.

And so, BrizVegas architectural giants Cox Rayner Architects won our traditionalist leadership over with a floating wedge of mediocrity that is really no different from the existing ferry terminals. Nothing of the design reflects the catastrophe that befell us in January because we are desperate for assurance that we will not be flooded again ! Let’s just forget, build something solid and focus on the worrying trends on the stock exchange.

It’s dismaying that BrizVegas doesn’t have any balls to build bizarre or zany architecture. Though we do love us some big mofo structures that have been engineered up the clacker. Just think the Soleil skyscraper in the CBD or any number of the spaghetti network of tunnels and flyover roads that are metastasising across our city.

Ok, so there’s an element of risk involved in choosing to build public infrastructure which hasn’t been proven before, but had our forefathers relied on that logic the world would not know the brand of the Sydney Opera House or the iconography of the Eiffel Tower or the nod to capitalist freedoms that is the Statue of Liberty. This risky business is not what Anna wants to get involved in with the scent of election in the air and Can-Do Campbell nipping at her sensible shoes. Perhaps she doesn’t want to upset her fanbase by choosing an untested design that might need to be defended for its innovation ? She knows it takes more than an akubra and khaki pants to settle an angry mob.

There’s no doubt that the new ferry terminal design will withstand future flood events, but should that have been the primary outcome of this competition ? I feel in her conservatism, Anna has grossly underestimated the people of BrizVegas. Sadly, in feeding us the design equivalent of meat and three veg, I fear we are witnessing the dissipation of the creative groundswell that seemed so promising in the wake of the flood disaster.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Things I wish I'd seen in New Farm this weekend, but didn't #17 :

Sunday, July 3, 2011

While I was busy disparaging BrizVegas for being a den of cultural iniquity with zero taste, I happened upon this article from The Australian's 'Wish Magazine'.

"The biggest trend in museum exhibitors appears to be shows with a fashion theme. Earlier this year, The Art Newspaper published its museum attendance figures for 2010 and in the decorative arts category five of the top 10 shows focused on the fashion industry. And, according to TAN, no city likes fashion exhibitions more than - wait for it - Brisbane. The Queensland Art Gallery's Hats : An Anthology by Stephen Jones was the second most-visited fashion exhibition globally and the GoMA's Valentino Retrospective was seventh."

All together now ... Up Yours and Up North !

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Winter Solstice Festival at Northey Street City Farm had all the makings of a good night. Among the abundant citrus groves and dormant beds of winter greens, danced hippies supping lentil soup from recycled bamboo cups. Strains of pop protest songs filtered through the crowds of revellers, the profundity of the lyrics finding resonance with the good, the earnest and the disbelieving. The perfectly dishevelled good looks of the lead singers helped the cause.

The whole event was agreeably low-key and small-scale. Arriving at the festival, one was free to wander throughout the city farm – which sprawls over a few blocks by Breakfast Creek at Windsor – and explore the grounds. Perhaps one would discover the candle-making demonstration by some guy in a hemp poncho by the potatoes, or a girl knitting goat’s wool with her toes. Is there no limit to the creativity of people who don’t watch television ?!

Charming idiosyncrasies aside, it strikes me that no matter where in the world, who the people or what the occasion, these festivals are all underpinned by the same trinity of entertainment. Food, music, port-a-loos. You can’t compromise on any of the elements or the result will never be a truly great fiesta. As in previous years, I had expected to spend a relaxing evening watching some mediocre musicians biding time till the bonfire was lit. The pleasant surprise was that this time, there were some really decent live performances even despite it still being a free, not-for-profit event.

As always, the Chai Café did a roaring trade, eventually running out of their top seller – hot chai – far earlier than expected. I wonder if the hippie community is upset by having their most iconic beverage appropriated by yuppie culture ? I suppose the hippies stole the idea from the Indians first . . . along with yoga.

Interestingly and possibly without parallel in today’s era of saturation marketing, there was no alcohol license and no branding of the festival. (Though as an addendum, Northey Street was far from being free of mind-altering substances.) In a perverse kind of a way, it felt strange not to be served coffee in a ‘Lipton’s Tea’ takeaway cup while taking shelter under a ‘GM Holden’ marquee. That the festival was staged so successfully without a corporate financial crutch is a testament to the always underappreciated human capital of volunteering.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This story begins somewhere in the overripe petri dish of debauchery and human waste that is Fortitude Valley on a Saturday night. The crisp notes in the air are unseasonably chilly for BrizVegas in June, but undeterred, the city’s young women spurn winter’s wrath and continue to wear tight acrylic garments barely covering their asses and emphasising their boobs. Down south in Melbourne, the cold would drive partygoers to cocoon themselves in sensible winter coats, but not here, not in BrizVegas.

We throw back some more Vodka Cruiser and say ‘Up yours and up north’ !

Yelling almost coherent profanities into her iPhone, a beautiful girl with skin like buffalo hide sits on the stoop of a club. Her white blonde hair, styled with such care just a few hours before, now flies about her face and is getting stuck to the sticky alcohol coating her arms. A couple of meters away on Ann Street, her male acquaintance plays chicken with the cars. Arms akimbo, he is trying to have a conversation with people on the other side of the road, slapping taxi bonnets in an attempt to make himself heard, but only succeeds in scaring the Sikhs sitting inside.

For a moment, he remembers his duty to his now sobbing girlfriend, who is in danger of toppling into the gutter, and races back to her side. She fills him in on the details of her phone call, and they express their outrage at whatever ghastly injustice has befallen them, by turning on each other in play fighting. Exhausted and disoriented after a few seconds, the girl teeters on the edge of the footpath, and with the accuracy and rage of a recently-sacked AFL football player, hurls her iPhone onto the bitumen.

The moment of beautiful explosion where thousands of shiny nano-electronic pieces find their resting place on the road, is spectacular. Strangely, the girl does not seem upset at the destruction of her iPhone. Unfazed, she continues on her personal tirade. Arm in drunken arm, the couple unsteadily make their way to another bar before lockout ruins their night.

Tomorrow is another day, and for now at least, there are enough rare earth minerals in China for everyone to buy the newest iProduct on the market.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Picture yourselves attending one of those glitzy functions, somewhere by the river, rubbing shoulders with the city’s glitterati – minor newsreaders and disgraced sporting heroes – swilling some Aussie sparkling, waiting your turn to be networked into an exhausting conversation by an ambitious young PR executive. You’re offered some sesame-crusted seared tuna or arancini while you eyeball the room in search of another networking opportunity, only to see every other fake-lashed eye unashamedly doing the same thing.

The noise of the rabble dies down when one of the hired celebs takes the mic to declare the awesomeness of this night. He tells us he is soooo honoured to be a part of this local event, how far our city has come, and ends the speech by proclaiming parties like these really prove that . . . Brisbane has arrived!”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard or read this phrase. It’s been doing the rounds for a while and probably has a bit more mileage left in it, and yet I don’t think I’ve considered what the hell it means.

Ok, so we’re all guilty of being swept up the in the alluring jingoism plumping up this prosaic ode to our city, “Brisbane has arrived !”. Marketing buzzphrases like these are so common in contemporary lexicon, that nonsensical or poorly contextualised words don’t register as unusual anymore.

But if we consider it now, when would you say that BrizVegas initially fell into the cultural void ? And more intriguingly, does anyone know when it made its comeback onto the world stage ?

It is implicit in their public dialogue that our government and media bodies believe we now live in a bleeding-edge new world city with global nous. Even the billboard at the international airport tells us so.

According to our collective consciousness, it hasn’t always been the case. We know that BrizVegas was once a forgotten country town of nobodies doing nothing of note. David Malouf’s Johnno and historic rivalries with southern cousins have scarred us with that cultural cringe. In our desperation to be noticed, spooked by a past spent in ostracised oblivion, perhaps we don’t appreciate that we have steadily been developing a rather charming character. We felt plagued for so long with the disgrace of inferiority, and our remedy has been to recast our city in a starring role, though our experience is perhaps more suited to understudy.

Many identity-conscious modern cities suffer the same affliction we do, of cannily bolstering big-budget development projects to feed a hungry economy without considering the human-scale impact. There is a great deal about BrizVegas that calls for celebration. I just don’t believe we have yet reached a point of perfection in order to seriously proclaim ourselves “arrived !”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Who’s going to BrisVegas’ Winter Festival in King George Square starting next week ? Just like Vienna, Paris and Prague before it, BrizVegas will host an outdoor skating rink and ersatz alpine lodge (though perhaps they were the genuine article in Europe).

I can forgive the misplaced cultural overtones, but the fake snow machines and skating rink are just outrageous ! Good thing Tim Flannery is not dead, because he would be turning in his grave over this flagrant disregard of our most pressing public concern . . . climate change.

Of course, being that the Winter Festival is a privately-funded event – staged for profit – we would not expect its organisers to be campaigners of a green lifestyle. But considering the location on the doorstep of our primary council building, it is incredibly hypocritical of BrizVegas City Council. This is the same BCC who advertise ‘Climate Smart Home Service Rebates’, are champions of ‘Earth Hour’, host events like ‘Sustainability Day’ (whatever that means). Council shamelessly flaunts a green-washed, eco-friendly I HEART BNE logo but does not have a moral leg to stand on. The result of such contradiction in our publicly-elected office, is a confused public who do not know where they are supposed to stand in regards to environmental issues.

Is this an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario where we are all too afraid to admit squeamishness in the face of gross and wasteful energy consumption ? Is the big cheese who agreed to the concept of keeping a giant plate of ice frozen for three weeks under the BrizVegas sun, aware of the world’s dwindling resources ?

Oh wait, maybe it’s a ‘Let them Eat Cake’ scenario whereby those in power know the world will be a wasteland by the end of the decade. They suppose that perishing together with fond memories of figure ice-skating and churros in King George Square, is better than languishing another few years, pointlessly changing our halogen bulbs to energy-efficient ones and not printing out emails in a desperate bid to save our planet.

Now where did I put my ice skates . . .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Ideas Festival had it all. From purposefully awkward publicity stunts like mass ballet lessons on Kurilpa Bridge to communal meals with big cheeses Maggie Beer and Rod Quantock. And of course no state-funded festival would be complete without some turgid rehashing by unfocused discussion about sustainable urban growth and political accountability from our liberal arts-educated friends.

Despite the festival being held over a hurried and jam-packed three days, as always, it was a joy to visit the State Library. The pleasure was heightened by the sheer number of rosy-faced student idealists wearing sloganed tee shirts, tight jeans and hair artfully styled into waves as soft as their Raybans are square. In droves they flocked to the lectures and workshops throughout the library – their youthful enthusiasm knows no bounds when it comes to public discussion. For theirs is a strongly held belief that provision of forums, where ordinary people are able to sit at the altar of a public figure with a doctorate in paleoclimatology and listen to anecdotes from this and other such narrowly defined PhDs, is not purely for entertainment on a Saturday afternoon, but will truly redefine community values.

Does this point to a trend in Generation Y having more faith in dialogue-based change rather than crude action-based protest marches of their parents ?

Not all festival-goers though, were young and good-looking. It was also lovely to see kids and even a few older couples who had wisely brought their own alfoil-wrapped sandwiches to eat by the river. Because the café food in and around the cultural centre is heinously overpriced and often not fit for human consumption.

One gripe worth noting about the administration of the Ideas Festival, was the antiquated method of ticketing. In order to enter ticketed events, one had to pre-book online and print a paper ticket to show at the door. Here’s an Idea for next year . . . how about the festival organisers drag themselves out of 2007 and make provision for etickets on iPhones, or inhouse ticket machines to book on the day or even spontaneous ticketless entrants ?

Brisbanites are not luddites, dudes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It was touted to be the penultimate life-altering piece of infrastructure, that in making use of, would transform us into happier people with better friends, finer clothes and slimmer waistlines.

Seeing as the most cursory observation highlights the discrepancies between projected and actual figures of motorists using the Clem 7 tunnel, it begs the question ...

Why is it that people would rather waste their time stuck in traffic on an alternative bottle-necked route, rather than waste their money on paying the Clem 7 toll?

I know the shockjockery of Peter Dick on 4BC can make for scintillating post-work radio noise, but is it preferable to getting home earlier and spending quality time with those children we're supposed to be having ? Should not we be mindful of the fact that a person's time is a finite resource - the source of which cannot be mined for more minutes - whereas more money can always be earned in our booming economy.

I am no proponent of invasive, large-scale infrastructure for the sake of motorists, but seeing as the Clem 7 is now finished and floundering, let's do like a politician and throw on the positive spin. That way, BrizVegas won't become a city famous for the longest white elephant, taking no-one from one side of the city to the other.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

There is an endearing quality to the boobs of bogans in BrizVegas. The unabashed presence of buxom cleavage reveals a character of honest intention, free from any hint of inhibition or class. In most cases, raunchy displays of boobs are less about promiscuity and more related to fame-seeking and juvenile desperation to abide by social norms. Women in BrizVegas – from underage babes to mutton-dressed-as-lamb cougars – love to show a hint of boob because we’ve got the flesh, we’ve got the climate, and we’re so far away from the rest of the world, who’s going to care about our lewd behaviour ?

BrizVegas is wrong to shun its reputation as the breeding ground of loud, Mystic tanned cashed-up-bogans, and should embrace the beguiling gracelessness of its thriving mainstream culture. Like an extrovert at a party, a well-exhibited set of boobs is a joy to behold, endowing all in their presence with a swelling pride for the bogan lifestyle. To stare at bogan boobs is to feel a compulsion to buy a plasma TV.

The question of whether we live in a happier, more generous society as a result of our willingness to bare flesh, or we feel compelled to reveal our assets because we enjoy such affluence and good fortune, is the fodder of sociologists.

Either way, our candour is deeply refreshing. The charitable nature that revealed itself in BrizVegas after the floods can’t have stemmed from a well of pure capitalist individualism, so clearly there are sources other than money which account for our sunnier-than-most society. It must be the boobs.

So next time you’re in town and you pass by a fabulous set of bogan boobs, say thanks; for making BrizVegas the breast city in the world.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Any romantic notion of train travel being the civilised wayfaring option has been been systematically and emphatically quashed by Queensland Rail (QR) over the years. Even forgiving the day-to-day logistic operational inadequacies of QR, riding on a train in BrisVegas leaves a traveller dirtier, more neurotic and less friendly a human being, none of which engenders a sense of pride in a city’s public transport.

Descending into the damp and dimly-lit caverns of Central or Brunswick Street Stations to board slow-moving trains emanating ambiguous odours is not a pleasant experience. Neither is hurrying with the crowds through the long passageway of Roma Street Station with commuters abruptly peeling off and seamlessly joining stream again at its various platform entrances.

Any imagined sense of palpable damnation shrouding QR stations seems actualised when there are pictures of policemen and armed security decorating the walls. Then on train platforms and in carriages we’re bombarded with depressing public notices about fare evasion and the importance of such life-saving precautions as not overstepping the yellow line, or alerting authorities when bags are found to be without people. It just doesn’t make sense.

And if we weren’t already sufficiently subdued into an unthinking mass of MX readers by all the safety protocol, we’re treated to the added humiliation of grappling with the automated ticket machines. Why, after wading through a series of ever more infuriating touch screen options, are we forced to nearly hands and knees to collect a ticket through the slot at the bottom ? Just one more way we’re being gently coerced into all joining the GO Card club.

Perhaps if Anna sells off QR passenger rail services we could enjoy the return of train travel with class and dignity.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Am I alone in thinking that the recent and ongoing tussle to win Queensland’s Premiership amongst senior political party members is utterly juvenile?

As Can-Do Campbell smarmily worms his way into the state’s affections, indifferent to any of the LNPs State policy or procedure, Anna Bligh watches her early 2011 surge in popularity recede more swiftly than the floodwaters. It seems that these political acrobatics are no more substantial than a choreographed diversion from any constructive discussion of pressing issues, such as how can we ensure BrisVegas becomes a city more resilient to flooding, or considering the economic and environmental downsides to our dependence on export to China, or even wondering where we will grow fresh food to feed ourselves.

It may be our short (and shortening) attention spans that have allowed such unproductive political in-quarrelling. Polls show that today, the average punter prefers Can-Do Campbell over Anna Bligh as Premier, yet a few short weeks ago, Anna was our saving grace in a time of crisis, and before Christmas she was one of the most vilified figures in our state’s history.

One of the conditions of living in BrizVegas is allowing oneself to grow fat and rich on a steady diet of rampant construction and capitalist enterprise. Our elected representatives provide us with glossy advertisements about road upgrades and boozy charitable events, new cycle paths and international music festivals, all of which are excellently satisfying our urge for materialistic accruement and vapid social networking. Much of the noise of modern life, however, can only ever act as short-lived attempts to correct our pangs of spiritual void. If what we seek is truthful guidance and consideration of our long-term future from Queensland’s elected leadership, it’s no wonder nobody is able to hold our concentration for any length of time.

Although, government just about rubbish and rates, right ?

Friday, March 25, 2011

When the re-envisioned King George Square was unveiled 18 months ago, Brisbanites responded in collective outrage. Where was the shade ? Where was the colour ? Grey granite paving yet again *groan* !

It was during the gleaming freshness of the honeymoon period, that we regular folk realised we bristled with sunburn after just a quick dash from one side of the square to the other. So imagine the hell wreaked upon the alabaster skins of the brooding posse of Goths loitering at the doorstep of City Hall.

And the response from Can-do-Campbell ?

“Wait,” was what we were told.

He said the couple of fig trees planted in the paved expanse would one day provide enough umbrage for a veritable bevy of emos, punks and Goths – though it would be many years, and generations of fringe-dwelling subcultures before we could enjoy their shady respite.

It’s fair enough to understand that, as visiting locals to our redeveloped public spaces, we must tolerate a period during which the subtropical vegetation can grow to sufficient maturity. Think South Bank’s iconic arbour during its steely stark beginnings. Were we not initially horrified at the ugly industrial aesthetic ? But in time, we have taken into our hearts the clipped and coiffed purple beauty of the bougainvillea treillage. New Farm park too, in its infancy would have appeared incomplete without her graceful Jacaranda flowers carpeting our paths in dusty pink flowers and contributing to our city’s inappreciable seasonal identity. Thus, it is not unheard for BrizVegas to have waited patiently to take pleasure in the mature offering of trees and plants.

What I find harder to forgive, however, are the poorly considered excuses for built public infrastructure dotted about our parks and squares. Why are we so forgiving of hastily constructed and/or cookie cutter picnic tables, shelters, public art, toilet blocks, public works buildings, etc ? There is no reason why the same logic of delayed gratification from soft landscaping should not be similarly applied to hardscaping. We are right to demand more of our public spaces and subscribe to the old adage of quality over quantity, this being an especially salient point in an era of rapidly depleting resources. Consideration of a materials palette which bears a relationship to the site in which it is to be applied would result in sui generis design rather than carbon copying of precedent exemplars.

To visit the most recent of the CBD’s public spaces, the Kangaroo Point parkland with its steel, glass and poured concrete is to think oneself in Anywhere Parkland, BrisVegas. There are no noteworthy features (apart from the spectacular river backdrop) which signify to the visitor where he or she is. Almost identical to countless other urban parks throughout our city, it lacks flair and is really quite boring.

For the future, let us celebrate South East Queensland’s regional identity through public space and continue our explorations into developing local design vernacular.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's pretty clear that Prince William is completely out veneering Anna Bligh on his grinning tour of our disaster areas. Who hasn't been won over by his rumpled royal charm slowly melting into a glistening, sweaty mess under the Queensland sun ?Not even a glossy Women's Day spread could hurt his popularity right now. Can-Do-Campbell has been undeniably knocked from his mantle as Queensland's Prince.

However, I don't believe the assemblies of greeters are drawn solely by the man's royal status. If Lady Gaga graced the Top End in a garment fashioned from Rockhampton steak, she would doubtless attract as many, if not more curious onlookers. Prince William's is a draw card not because he is a Prince but because he is a celebrity, and in our modern times, they are one and the same. If he and Kate Middleton have a baby between now and when Australia holds its next republic referendum, there's no way Brisbanites will vote to become independent.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

“What is a 21st Century city?” was the question posed by Alan Saunders to open the GoMA talks lecture ‘What makes up a 21st Century City and are there any boundaries’ earlier this month. The only panellist – including the By Design host – worthy of his place, architectural professor Michael Keniger, quite obviously pointed out that it must be a city existing in the 21st Century. There came a chuckle from the audience. But more importantly, he added, it must be a city with prudence of the 22nd Century.

When attending these kinds of pompous evening talks, I always hope the pre-lecture wine and blue cheese isn’t going to be the highlight of the night, though it was definitely the case for this one. And from the way Mr Saunders belched his way through his officiating duties it seemed as though he’d enjoyed a lubricating afternoon soiree at a fancy bistro too.

It’s an absurdly broad topic to discuss in an hour especially with a panel of four, each of whom were introduced in long form, complete with accurate titling and comprehensive timelines of their professional experience. (The intern writing Mr Saunders’ notes needs a lesson in editing.)

There was also an attempt by the creative team at GoMA to engage the digital audience by webcasting the lecture in real time to allow twitterers to comment on the dialogue unfolding in the gallery theatre. The live audience had a chance to read incoming tweets up on the big screen and while most were inane, a few comments downloaded from the ether onto Mr Saunders’ iPad did resonate and add something to the discussion.

Much of the hour was spent listening to the panellists disappointingly tangential streams of consciousness, and most skirted around the central question. References to BrisVegas appeared mostly in self-congratulatory, puff offerings about how special and beautiful our city is, how we have such a wonderful climate, how we are so lucky to enjoy green open space. Sure, when compared to megapolises like Calcutta or Hong Kong, BrizVegas is a dream. But let’s not forget South East Queensland needs to change so rapidly – in terms of infrastructure, housing, resource management – in order to meet future population demands that what little breathing space between the skyscrapers that currently exists, can quickly be swallowed up despite best laid contingencies.

Nowhere is it written that city, especially a 21st Century city, must be synonymous with gridlock, pollution, grey concrete and heat islands. We are allowed to demand more of the place where we spend all our lives and raise our children. That way, even if the utopia of our dreams doesn’t materialise, at least it will keep us occupied until we’re struck by a wall of water.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

City Cat. . .City BUZ . . . City Glider . . . Now, City Cycle !

Here is another case of BrizVegas public transport being assigned a zippy name by council’s marketing thinktank. It’s a memorable tag and it gets kudos for having continuity with the rest of our terminally deficient public transport suite. The problem is, however, that this word ‘city’ is bandied around in a smokescreen created by our council, our media and ourselves, the result being that everyone seems to forget we don’t really live in a city at all, but rather a tumorous conglomeration of suburbs.

I would like to note at this point, I am a $60-annually-paying-CityCycle-subscriber, and have trialled the scheme in a dual-pronged effort to support pedal power and better inform this rant.

And herein lies the first sting in the tail. Spontaneity is no friend of CityCycle. One needs forethought, a credit card and a letterbox in order to sign up for even the shortest of joyrides, or else the shiny, sturdy bike frames will taunt passersby from their perfect angle-parked formations. Then, upon receiving the golden ticket in the mail, the recipient is lengthily dictated to – in passive-aggressive tones – about the necessity of wearing a helmet.

Without wanting to discourage anyone from joining the slim ranks of those who have used CityCycle, there are a couple of considerations I feel ought to be taken into account prior to signing up. Need anyone be reminded that BrizVegas is blessed with a hot, horribly humid climate ? It is truly only the dedicated or foolhardy who choose to ride a bicycle in the summer heat. Donning a sweaty helmet and peddling past the industrial warehouses of Montague Road is a far cry from gliding on a Vélib’ along the Champs-Élysées in the wintertime. Similarly, the hilly charm of suburbs such as Paddington can be brutal for even the fittest of cyclists and could only be made more nauseating with a clunky hire bike.

Even without all the bureaucratic and climatic inconveniences of riding these bikes, there remains the most obvious of reasons as to the unsuitability of CityCycle to our city, being what was aforementioned about BrizVegas not actually being a city. Brisbanites (outside of the immediate CityCycle catchment) will not ride the bikes because there is no reasonable cause to. Cars are getting us around just fine. Cities with similar hire bikes schemes, such as Washington DC, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm and London possess many worthy monuments allowing tourists to pedal between them. Conversely, there’s the BrizVegas CityCycle which among its docking stations boasts . . . Southbank, New Farm Park, Kangaroo Point and that funky vegan place in Highgate Hill. Short-stay tourists will surely not hassle themselves with the convoluted and pricy subscription process, so, in its current incarnation, CityCycle must be aimed squarely at commuters travelling the yuppie trail between New farm and West End.

If it survives the scathing backlash from talkback radio and Can Do Campbell’s nemeses, CityCycle could be tweaked so it performs a limited but valid function in providing tourists a fun way to travel the river. Until then, never leave home without your helmet.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

This weekend, as I exhausted my Stuff White People Like quota – visiting the Kelvin Grove Farmers Markets [#5], supporting a local artisan [#49], downloading an episode of This American Life [#44] and generally raising my awareness [#18] – it made me wonder how many fellow Brisbaneites might have done the same.

There are more and more people visiting the Kelvin Grove Urban Village on a Saturday morning to buy fresh produce, which truly warms the cockles. Just knowing those farmers are toiling away in the field all week, rising at the crack of dawn on the weekend and shuffling around all day in a stifling market stall so that the good people of the BrizVegas inner north won’t starve, makes me feel so, well, white. And doesn’t it feel good ?!

The central market thoroughfare, crowded with bobos carrying tote bags bulging with thai basil and fresh galangal, comes alive with music and the sounds of coffee discussion. To jostle with fellow customers, glistening with the perspiration of do-gooding and caffeine, in order to get the most organic-looking pineapple from Narangba is a great way to while away a morning. And of course, everyone knows not to patronise the Asian sellers who have obviously just bought up big at Rocklea and are flogging exorbitantly priced, poor quality fruit. They’re not the true celebrated heros of our beloved farmers markets.

What often goes unnoticed is the behind the stalls work. Here is where the children of the Asian vendors crouch over styrofoam boxes, artfully sorting the cherries and the plums with fingers swift from hours of piano practice. Lucky are the children who work for their education, for they will inherit the wealth. No doubt those kids are already in line to be full-fee paying students at UQ, so although we’re not quite fiddling while Rome burns, we self-satisfied bobos are certainly eating well while we drive our Prius’ and look forward to a carbon-taxed future.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In recovering from our local spate of natural disasters, and now watching the horror unfold in New Zealand, one can’t help but feel nauseous about how soon the effects of the dozing climate change giant are upon us. Or, if you’re from the other school of belief, that the Mayan calendar seems to be a year out and it’s, Apocalypse Now !

We know that victims of recent, sudden disasters will be burdened with psychological scars long into the future, just as communities in prolonged drought live heavily under pressure to subsist. In fact, ‘solastalgia’ is a word coined by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe this deep feeling of dislocation and loss that occurs when one’s local environment suffers detrimental change. It was initially purposed to understand the link between ecosystem loss and mental health concerns within mining communities, but has since been applied to a broader range of community studies. (Read more on solastalgia here)

So what of those of us who live in relatively stable ecosystems – like BrisVegas – where it’s not so much a change in climate we are experiencing, as a rapid-onset, reconfiguration of our city’s landscape? The BrizVegas of today with its GO cards, and its farmers markets; its ferris wheel and its tunnel network; its yippies, its hippies and DINKs; is a far cry from the Brisbane backwater of old in which many of us grew up. Thus, in a genuine state of solastalgia, we may find ourselves experiencing an odd homesickness in our own backyard.

So, in answer to the question so often asked of travellers, “Are you glad to be home?”.

Well, in one sense, yes. Of course.

But in many ways it never feels like coming home, because so little of home exists anymore that it’s often difficult to recognise. In sync with the rest of the world, BrizVegas now consumes more but produces less locally, is more in debt, larger and more populated than ever before.

It’s not all bad news, though, because at least now we can drive the Clem7 to get from Bowen Hills to Woolloongabba 4.36mins faster than last year.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This weekend, the BrizVegas cultural centre precinct welcomed visitors through its doors again for the first time since the floods. On Saturday, the area was so crowded with city folk, that one could be forgiven for mistaking oneself in the TATE Modern or Pompidou Centre, rather than our own usually barren, almost inert riverside ‘arts’ space.

It was as much the playful, whimsical nature of the 21st Century : Art in the First Decade exhibition, as the gratifyingly air-conditioned spaces which drew visitors in from the sunshine. Free entry probably helped too (and was much appreciated after of some of GoMA’s outrageously expensive admission prices of the past). The pieces in the exhibition were for the most part really accessible, colourful and interactive. Hey, here’s an idea ... why not apply the same principles to building and public infrastructure outside the gallery ?

There’s no denying that Brisbanites flock to big ticket exhibitions like paparazzi to a Hollywood premiere… think Warhol, Picasso, Valentino of recent years. Our cultural constitution is so glutted with sport, alcohol, food and celebrity, we leave almost no room for art appreciation. Never would we seek out the work of unsung artists or patronise an arts event that isn’t publicised to within an inch of its life on every billboard, bus and newspaper for months leading up to it. And anyway, we’re too busy gastro-socialising over brunch in a little New Farm cafe.

It may be that before we commit ourselves to going to the theatre, or visiting an art exhibition, we require confirmation from other parts of the world that it will be worth our while.

We went to see Warhol @ GoMA because everyone knows he’s a genius, right ?

Valentino ? Well, he’s one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s favourite designers.

And Wicked has been a huge hit on Broadway for years, so must be alright.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking cultural cues from overseas markets. It puts BrisVegas in the protégé position; being mentored by cities we’d like to be when we grow up. We just have to be careful not to completely eclipse the sunny, subtropical, humbly Christian, trashtastic breeding ground of our own city, from which local and really quite wonderful ideas continue to spawn.

21st Century : Art in the First Decade @ GoMA till 26 April.

Go see it !

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Has anyone seen these signs around our fair city ?

I only encountered my first one last week @ Fortitude Valley State School on St Paul’s Terrace. Previous to this, I had been ignorant of this trial initiative by the Brisbane City Council to avail select school ovals for public use over the Christmas holidays. Some participating schools were Buranda, Kelvin Grove, Cannon Hill, Morningside and Murrarie.

Listen here to Geoff Wilson (State Minister for Education) chatting on ABC Breakfast late last year about the scheme.

It seems like a great idea and I’m keen to hear what people thought about it …

So, what’s the deal, Can-Do-Campbell ?

Did it work ?

Does this mean you’ve come to the realisation that BrizVegas is desperate for more quality public open space ?

Thanks in advance for getting back to us.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

For those who haven’t yet heard, David Jones Toombul is now boarded up and closed for trading, signaling the death knell for shopping centres with class. So fond was my grandmother of this particular department store, that I’m sure she would have chained herself and her loyalty card to the Manchester department, were it a socially-acceptable way of protesting its closure.

In its halcyon days, it was hallowed ground where one could fondle fluffy towels, browse haberdashery and nibble on scones in the ladies tea room to the sounds of piano muzak. It harks back to an era when the word ‘Chermside’ meant a sleepy outer suburb, and had not yet become the universal term for ubiquitous consumerism fuelled by cashed up bogans. The idea of Sunday trading was abhorrent and late Thursday night shopping was still a titillating end-of-the week indulgence. Product lines, though not inexpensive, were of genuinely sound quality, offering a more superior alternative to the comparative crap of Myer, or in more recent times, K-Mart and Target.

In fact, rumour has it that David Jones will be replaced by Target Country, though whether it’s because the northside is being mistakenly rezoned as rural, or the demographic truly has changed, is not for certain.

Thanks for the memories David Jones. I'll always remember your ultra-cool green vinyl chairs in the second-flood powder room.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let us consider for a moment this sweetly ironic BrizVegas vignette :

Those of you familiar with this city will know the grungy, ethnic, but now largely gentrified microcosm of West End. Recently, I happened to be enjoying a sticky but pleasant evening quenching a thirst with soda and lime, on the vomit-stained terrace of the Rumpus Room. Not even the self-obsessed gaits of the motley collection of wannabe artists (read future arts council employees) passing my field of vision could dampen my spirits.

One particular jaunty dreadlocked hippie veered off towards a large fig tree to embrace his hippie friend, making sure to co-ordinate heart chambers. After a brief and earnestly animated exchange – of the sort only those who have shared life-altering performance pieces at Woodford can – he goes to leave. But before he does, bends down to collect a crisp and glossy white plastic Bed, Bath and Table bag.

What does it contain ?

A bong ?

Perhaps compost or worm castings ?

I honestly wondered what his friend had gifted him. Then, with a shake of his fisherman’s pants, off he ambled, light on his earthy feet towards the nearest community garden (a guess). Though I never found out what his bag contained, I’m hoping it really was new sheets from Bed, Bath and Table. Because I like entertaining the image of his nugget frame resting peacefully on 180 thread count Egyptian cotton inside his rusted kombi.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

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