In Junk for Code, Gary Sauer-Thompson reflects on the Weekend Australian’s latest article in its Australian cities series, in which Adelaide is characterised as the “thinking person’s city”: a city of ideas, education (the grandmother of all sandstone universities is there), but more importantly of cosmopolitanism. As a Brisbane native, not only can I only understand the need to brand medium-sized cities in ways that take into account our economies of scale, but I can also bring an outsider’s perspective to this. When I was in Adelaide recently for the Sonics/Synergies conference, which happened just after the Festival of Ideas, nearly 10 years after my last visit to the Festival State, I naturally salivated over the food and wine and tucked myself into not a few Coopers in any number of cosy and atmospheric pubs. But, particularly late at night on the city streets, I was also struck by a new sense of spiritual dulling and social quiet. This may be partly because in Brisbane, we have seen the creative and leisure sectors, particularly the music scene and the night-time economy develop–and I should say that of course I have a vested interest in that happening. So perhaps it was a matter of my own parochial enthusiasm (that I have any is new and disturbing in itself). And yet there were quite a few locals who responded to my voicing these thoughts with a shrug and an offhand “Yeah, SADelaide”. And the SA government, I gather, hasn’t helped much to support the local music industry (but that’s pretty much just hearsay).
Putting my own perceptions, and my embarrassingly celebratory comments about Brisbane’s changing social landscape, aside, I also experience a sense of unease when Brisbane is promoted as a “creative city”, the capital of the “smart state”. It seems to me that creativity is tied up with urban cosmopolitanism, that smartness is not accidentally a close relative of hipness: an argument not disputed but actively propagated by Richard Florida in The Creative Class. And being sophisticated, cosmopolitan, smart and hip might be a great economic goal, and a powerfully seductive idea for the residents, but I think we are yet to fully understand the social ramifications of policies built around it. The most obvious area of concern, of course, is the availability and location of affordable rental accommodation–at least councils are beginning to realise that “creative clusters” rely on a continuous tradition of urban bohemias, of artistic communities, (and don’t forget the Gay Index) which means that we can’t build out all the inner-city ex-industrial areas with Ikea-furnished aparments and cloned cafes. But what if you aren’t bohemian, aren’t “creative” in a way that is easily converted into creative capital for the city: what if you live in one of those boarding houses that flank Brunswick Street, the main artery of Fortitude Valley? Or are the shuffling pensioners just a bit more colour and movement–a bit more streetlife? After all, as Brisbane Marketing tells us:
Fortitude Valley is full of contrasts and delights –
a place to explore, be entertained and find the unexpected.