I live in Sydney Australia but my memories roam the world, memories of places visited, memories of reading about places I want to visit, memories that resonate from the first encounter and others intensified by repeat experiencing it again. A forlorn glimpse of the still intact Berlin Wall and unkempt Brandenburg Gate on a day trip to Berlin in 1988, is a stark contrast to the brushed glamour of 2016, the modern Adler Hotel a resurgence of earlier glory and later decrepitude. Cities thrive on landmarks in different eras not just of their initial building but of re-mouldings that eventually typify their city home.
Similarly, experiences that pierce from the moment you live them can become so redolent of the city’s atmosphere they engrain your mind.
Singapore’s street stalls, for a long time now in food courts and shopping centres, were a far more haphazard transaction when I first visited the city-state in 1978. Every night at six o’clock a flotilla of wiry men in white vests scurried around a carpark, after it had shut for cars, to ready it for incoming street stallholders.
They unfolded tables and tumbled out chairs to prepare for the rapid-fire turnover of locals and travelers who ate at this famous food area within prime retail real estate. Gas-fired cooktops unveiled for their dancing woks, funnels of oil, spatulas and chopsticks, mountains of vegetables, sliced protein and noodles dunked in boiling water and unraveled for diners in this crackling testimony to taste and inventiveness.
The Orchard Road carpark. I cannot remember whether it was listed in Lonely Planet’s, South-East Asia on a Shoestring, the obligatory guide back then, but it mesmerised me night after night, my love affair with the vivacity, skills and final product of these conjurers. I ate well and became addicted to fried banana (pisang goreng). It was short-lived but I loved the crispy exterior and mushy inside, surprised at how I couldn’t resist a fruit I normally avoided. I have since read that South-East Asia has many of its own banana species; these must have been some of them. It blew me away.
CITIES – A CONSTANT IN MY LIFE
I have always loved cities, even while recognising how fraught they are, crowded, often impersonal and unfriendly, tiring and expensive. Yet, turn around these characteristics and you have what makes cities so magnetic, the variety of people, their push and energy, the possibilities of an unlikely, intimate smile, as well as the choice of café, bar, gallery, museum, library, college, a pulsating mix that smaller places cannot match in number and scope.
Even when frustrated by the shoving and insolence and people rushing and focused on their mobile phones. Even when lost and walking miles to catch public transport or driving round and round to find a parking spot. But the chance of espying the unexpected, a laneway, expansive park or lake or harbour beach, or fantastic shop window, grand sandstone column, fluttering festival banner, expressive graffiti, makes it worthwhile. Even if I don’t go to most of the performances and films showing around the place I enjoy knowing they are on and attracting audiences who will sit back and like them or not, in an old-fashioned sense; bums on seats, mind somewhere else.
When choosing a university to go to, for a North of England lass like me, London was it. Seeing Europe on interrail, travelling through Asia to Kathmandu, across North America, South and North-East Asia, working in Hong Kong, settling in Australia, all this was driven by a preoccupation with cities. My heart still leaps at images of Shibuya’s intersecting zebra crossings, yes infuriating to cross in one sense, exhilarating in another. That is the city combo, a quintessential part of liveable cities, not always pleasant but dynamic, amalgamations of past and present, culture and politics, amalgamations that will continue every day because that is what life is about.
It was a joy to be managing editor of Melbourne: Global Smart City (2009). Rather than have separate specialist books, we put more than the Australia of harbours, beaches and quirky animals on the map. We covered architecture and design, past and present urban planning, commercial and residential buildings, galleries, research and technology hubs, food, shopping, laneways (before everyone discovered them), measures of lifestyle and health and not just gross national product and economic growth, sustainable buildings and communities, diversity and people, density and participation, place-making and heritage, accessibility and transport, cohesion and heritage, retail and entertainment.
How to capture a city, its essence, personality and personalities, its problems, challenges, its places where people live and work, have fun and rebuff sorrow. What to improve and this not always determined by algorithms but by observations, pleasures and disappointments.
City Chronicler will focus on people who care about the city and inspire others also to do so, to create your identity and profile, and tell the stories that best show your personality and vision:
- city makers, photographers, designers, artisans, craftspeople who incorporate city imagery into their work, or use local materials or local techniques
- city off-beats, people doing unusual interesting, living or working in the city or in other ways influenced by it
- city thinkers, people with passionate enough views about the city to have researched them and be prepared to discuss them with all of us
Writing, editing and visual communication draws on a wide range of influences, ideas, sources, inspirations, the diversity of life, and of being alert to what is happening around you. I will also include eclectic information and comments on the city.
I have always wanted to visit Barcelona but have not yet done so. Lack of time or need to prioritise other places for personal reasons have got in the way. So often I read an article and the example of the latest on-trend restaurant, art gallery, sofa, cooking technique, is from there. I will visit one day.
Everyone has their Barcelona, the elusive one that gets away from them. With City Chronicler, I hope you will be able to claw back the hope and eventually the experience of cities real, not romanticised, personal, gritty, stimulating, unexpected and, above all, open to ideas, consultation and changes that consider what is already there as well as what is yet to come.