SOC208 2019 Tut 8 Mon 1130 – Australia’s East Coast Exopolis – the Post-Sustainable Sprawl?

Sociologists have tackled with the idea of urban alienation for well over a hundred years. Key theorists such as Ferdinand Toennies, Emile Durkheim and Georg Simmel each identified confronting aspects of city life. Simmel in particular, in the “Metropolis and Mental Life said that the city dweller becomes intellectual, blase’ and reserved because of the influence of money and calculation, and also because of the great press of people and sensations. However, modernist architects such as LeCorbusier took a counter position, and proffered a great enthusiasm for the speed and excitement of city life, and for the destruction of the old to make way for the new. Many, contemporary cities would offer both sensations; the intense excitement of the new, combined with social disconnection strong enough to force some people to ‘rent a cuddle’ in order to secure any kind of intimacy in their urban lives.

However, a key part to understanding urban alienation is to understand that not all cities are the same, and that the shape, size and interconnectivity of the city can isolate people. As Benjamin Ross notes, since governments in the USA started sponsoring the expansion of suburbs after both World Wars – as part of the New Deal, and later as part of the Post WWII Housing boom and the subsidising of interstate highways through gas taxes – suburban sprawl and the highway have become the defining features of contemporary cities. This has had many adverse effects, including the demolition and building over of existing urban natural spaces, heritage areas, and cohesive ethnic villages. It was the kind of technocratic, top-down development that Jane Jacobs fought against in the 1960s, oblivious to the existence of street level communities and multi-use urban design.

It also lead to the rise of Los Angeles style ‘post-modern cities, characterised by large expanses of suburban sprawl spanning several, disconnected urban centres or nodes (rather than around one central CBD). Edward Soja describes six qualities that characterise cities of this type in his book “Postmetropolis’, including i) post-Fordist cities shifting to post-industrial modes of production; ii) the cosmopolis characterised by globalised flows of urban capital, labour and culture; the iii) turning of the city inside out as the sprawl creates suburban ‘exopolises, (exurbias) lacking natural social centres within which people can connect and socialise, and sometimes built around the junction of highways as ‘Edge Cities’; iv) the fractal city, characterized by new polarizations, inequalities and stratifications, instead of the old capital-labour and black-white divide (e.g now have the urban working poor); v) the Carceral archipelago, the institution of ‘hard control’ processes, such as fortress cities, surveillance technologies, and the substitution of police for private security guards, and vi) Simcities, ‘soft-control’ hyper real cities and neighbourhoods oriented to ‘lifestyle communities’. Many of these features can be seen in the major Australian cities today (just Google the controversy over Westconnex, or an image of the intersection of the M5 and M7 in Sydney’s west, to see these points).

However, the final piece the suburban sprawl puzzle, particularly in Australia, is the suburban obsession with the automobile. Peter Newman notes that Australian cities were amongst the first in the world (Perth perhaps the very first) to transform from Walkable Cities into Automobile cities. He notes Marchetti’s Constant; the rule that spending more than an hour a day commuting creates dissonance, reduces personal wellbeing, and will push people to seek other work-life arrangements. However, he argues that instead of enabling us to accord with this rule, our car culture has undermined it. He notes that the freeway lanes we have invested in so heavily can move a maximum of 2,500 people an hour, compared to heavy rail which can move up to 50,000 people an hour, so it is no wonder that highways have created gridlock more than freedom. There are now few opportunities to avoid this debilitating commute; after all, the jobs are in the centre of cities like Melbourne and Sydney, where very few people can afford to live (and certainly not live the Australian suburban dream). Newman argues for the need for more infill and urban renewal, public transport, high speed rail, and value capture to fund these activities.

We need to plan carefully to preserve and create social, sustainable communities with integrated public transport and high-speed rail (not highways) connecting (rather than gutting) cities. And we need to look at ways to take back public space from the dominance of cars; one example is that of inner city councils in Sydney experimenting with Sunday street closures to encourage children to re-emerge from the homes and play on the streets, as their suburban parents did once years ago. If we don’t look for new ideas, will we instead be looking at the spread of car-locked McMansions as far as we can see north and south along the coastline, and the rise of Australia’s East Coast Exopolis – a post-sustainable sprawl?

S208UOW19 #Tut8 #Mon1130

Posted in SOC208 - Cities, Communities and Families, UOW.

5 Comments on SOC208 2019 Tut 8 Mon 1130 – Australia’s East Coast Exopolis – the Post-Sustainable Sprawl?

Nadia Ciccolella said : Guest Report 2 weeks ago

Urban alienation and unsocial cities can be a major problem and can be impacted by a variety of factors. Ross argues that urban alienation is apparent in suburbia as communities become lost. In addition to this, roads and congestion becomes a big issue as Australian’s love driving everyday – this kind of behaviour is not considered sustainable and individuals are encouraged to make better use of public transport. Petar Newman encourages the aspect of walkable cities as he stresses the fact that the more time people spend commuting or driving the more inclined they are to seek closer employment and they are also at risk of having a lower state of wellbeing.

Emily Axam said : Guest Report 2 weeks ago

'Urban alienation’ to me, seems to quite a real aspect of living in inner city or ‘metropolis’, and I also believe that this process decided who lives in cities also. (Finding people often either love the city or hate the city). I do see Simmel as an intellectual that dislikes city life, and LeCorbusier as someone who loves the city life. This does not mean that both sides are not true, this means that everything changes with perspective. This idea comes hand in hand with Australia’s love for vehicles, because regardless of whether you live or work in the city, you can always drive the distance that needs to be covered in order for you to live the suburban or city lifestyle you need. Although this then does play into the problem of overcrowded roads and traffic, effectively resulting in an almost opposite consequence (Lack of freedom). Perhaps if there was an backwards shift towards cities that walk, rather than drive small distances, or a push towards the use of public transport?

Madeleine Wiersma said : Guest Report 2 weeks ago

Due to growing congestion on the road, we will need to find housing and lifestyles closer to the city to make use of public transport in the future. Travelling from the suburbs to the city for work everyday will not be sustainable - either for the ecological footprint it leaves behind or the mental health of those living in such areas, as Newman mentions. Suburban lifestyle is visualised and marketed as quiet and peaceful living, but with the growing congestion and without the roads to support such congestion, it isn't much quieter than the city. Many suburbs are close to busy roads and the noise carries.

Charles Lenarduzzi said : Guest Report 2 weeks ago

As a whole, the reading from Alan Walks effectively describes that the term suburban is difficult to define. While we consider city and outer city areas as suburban areas, they can be more accurately defined using other words such as metro-burbs, post suburbia, and post metropolis. The traditional term suburb no longer applies because they lack the connectedness of true traditional suburban areas that are not disconnected from urban centres by the dominance of the automobile, super blocks or high speed highways. Keil, 1994 suggest that in the rise of the automobile, new forms of global sprawl have formed. This has led to a new form of dispersed or edge-less suburban areas in which traditional logic's of urban space have been poorly reconfigured. Walk-ability has been reduced and there is a dependence on automobiles and motorised transport. This has a drastic impact on the well being on the suburban inhabitants, creating alienation and increasing isolation.

Joy derksen said : Guest Report 2 weeks ago

The concept of urban alienation and the isolated city presented by Georg Simmel is easy to imagine when one finds themselves deep in the centre of cities like Sydney, overwhelmed by the presence of thousands of people all just trying to get from point A to point B, and retracting into oursleves to avoid being over stimulated by the environment. However, to gain a full picture of what it means to be within a city, we must understand the vast differences between them. Although many cities are incredibly isolating, others are centres of connection, where communities come together in enclaves and groups and share their experiences. It is due to this complexity that care must be taken during the planning of cities, many attempts to make the environment more connected, may infact be at the cost of already existing, overlooked connectivity in the community. A prime example of this is the development of massive highways, fueled by the worlds dependence on cars. As people commute into the city for work and the roads become congested, the immediate response is to build bigger road networks to accomodate, however history has proven that all this does is to encourage even more cars to come onto the roads, thus starting the same problem from the beginning, while only achieving the destruction of environments, both natural and built, to make way for such developments. It is this idea that Jane Jacobs fought for, she argued that the demolition of already existing communities to make room for highways and modern development, caused the destruction of community networks within ethnic groups and other minorities within the city, thus being counter productive to its initial intention the build connectivity with the city. Essentially the message to be taken from the idea of the isolated city is that not all cities are the same, there will never be a universal way of making them more connected and less isolating. However, with careful planning and attention to the details of the individual city and all of its many parts, including those pre existing communities, the city can be established as a place of connectivity, rather than purely isolation.

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