Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Docklands, George, and Spirit of Place

I believe quite strongly in a sense of place.  It first impacted me about thirty or so years ago. I worked as a manager in a place where the CEO could have quite problematic relationships with staff.  I had been away on leave for about a month. On coming back to town, I found it necessary to pop back into the office a day or two before resuming work.  I entered the building and the whole place felt like sharp knives and needles were protruding from the walls.  It was a powerful feeling.  I asked one of my staff if what I felt was true.  My staff member said that things had been very bad while I had been gone.

Fast forward a few years. Another city, another job.  Driving one day in my work-provided car, I heard a Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen speaking about place. What she was saying struck a chord with me. You see, ever since that first dramatic impact I noticed that I was sensitive to place - feelings, moods, happenings that indicated the life and spirit of place.  I pulled over to the side of the road so I could pay attention.  What Bolen was saying confirmed my feelings.  After that, I have always taken seriously my feelings about place and have been confirmed many times in my assessment of the spirit of a particular place, building, environment.

Victoria Harbour development in Docklands, Melbourne

These remarks background my feelings about Docklands, an inner city urban development or redevelopment in Melbourne - the city where I now live. I have walked through Docklands on a couple of occasions.  I find it depressive and oppressive.  Beijing South I call it - because it reminds me of the vast stretches of high rise apartments I have seen in Beijing.

Melbourne and Victoria have justifiable reputations for gardens and natural beauty.  Yet, as I walked through some of the developments in Docklands I wondered if Melbourne would be able to maintain this reputation.  In some places, I wondered if the sun would ever hit the soil to grow anything.

On one of my visits, I walked along the esplanade across the water in the picture above.  It was about three o'clock on a mid-week afternoon.  What an environment of misery that was! Empty coffee shops.  Almost no people other than me.

I know there are huge sections of the population wanting an inner city lifestyle with access to arts venues, great restaurants and coffee shops, and walking distance to work.  But is Docklands what they really want?

Now all of this I attributed to my minority tastes and my acute sense of place. I have never expected many others to share my feelings.  But lo and behold, the top story on my screen at The Age site to-day is this.

George Savvides is a savvy man, indeed.
Read the comments to the story.
70 of them at 10am.
And then there is the poll.
Here it is at 10 am.
Between reading what George says and reading the comments,
I know I am not the only one who is conscious of  
a sense or spirit of place.

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