Will it ever be done?
Written: 7th Mar 2011 | Last Updated: 7th Mar 2011
There’s a street in our adjacent suburb that is perpetually lined with tradesmen’s vehicles. Actually, I should say clogged with them, because you almost always have to swerve and/or idle and wait patiently while navigating the road, as it gets reduced to one skinny lane walled-in by haphazardly-parked utes, concrete trucks and delivery vans. It’s in one of the nation’s most affluent neighbourhoods, boasting glamorous abodes and lovely gardens - some rather grand colonial-style dwellings are well over the century mark...others are sturdy, post-war bungalows built with modesty and restraint...and then there are the contemporary piles that trumpet the wealth of their entrepreneurial masters. A design magazine would commonly refer to this architectural jumble as an eclectic mix.
But what’s strange about the rampant renovations and restorations is that they never, I repeat NEVER, finish. Up and down the street they go...utes/trucks/vans, sparkys, chippies, plumbers, roofers, painters, landscapers, et al...fulfilling contracts and meeting deadlines in the re-imagining and re-shaping of the street. It’s fascinating at first, let’s say for the first ten years that you observe the phenomenon...but after that it’s like watching a madwoman eat breakfast...messy and highly disturbing. It seems that changing the face, internal space and character of these homes is obsessional, and that obsession is a prerequisite for buying there in the first place; an endless duty, like the painting of the Harbour Bridge.
In stark contrast, I revisited my old home town in the USA last September (my family moved to Sydney in 1962), and to my astonishment, street after street was exactly as I remembered, with houses intact...yes, nicely painted and refreshed, but structurally essentially the same. Two-storied clapboard houses along Delaware stood proudly unaffected, sweet and simple; three-storied Georgian mansions on Fairmount remained stately and refined, yards immaculately manicured, flags flying from poles; middle class bungalows and Cape Codders looked like “Beaver” Cleaver still lived there. I felt like I was in a time warp, that I’d landed back in my childhood. Was this stagnation? Was it urban depression? Or was it something else?
Australians seem obsessed with change and reinvention; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact it can be thrilling. Americans love and respect their history, and see beauty and honour in maintaining the status quo; they are proud to be caretakers. Is the answer as simple as this?
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