Sunday, 21 February 2010

Walking in the Wild West End

We took our yearly pilgrimage to the Melbourne Aquarium today. We've had a tough week with Dylan and his asthma, so we thought taking him to see some fish, penguins and other exotic creatures could help with all of us feeling better.
The weird thing about visiting the aquarium, located on the western side of Melbourne's CBD, is the walk. We park our car somewhere in Southbank where parking is available and then make our way to the aquarium on foot, only that this walk is not as trivial as it should be. You see, there has been a lot of building work going on that side of Melbourne (Southbank / South Wharf), but it all seems like this one big convoluted mess.
You get these huge apartment buildings; really big ones, standing one to the side of the other. You have the Crown Casino, hotels and convention centers. What you don't seem to have is a proper footpath: some streets don't have a footpath at all, others seem to have it as an afterthought, and when you try to cross the road you often discover that you need to cross three lights instead of one in order to get to your destination.
What has happened here? Why is it that despite having buildings housing people by the thousand, no suitable provisions were made to ensure they can actually get around in any way other than their cars?
I'll give you my theory. I strongly suspect the area fell victim to greedy developers who wanted to make as much money as they could. That, amongst others, includes selling as many apartments as they can while failing to provide facilities to match. The state government, on its side, is never shy of bending its own rules for the sake of money. Nor is it shy of turning a blind eye to the welfare of the people its meant to serve when dealing with big money. As far as they're concerned, that's their primary function; this is where they get their real power from. The victim? Everyone in Melbourne, and in particular everyone living in this area.
Another victim? Melbourne itself. This particular area of Melbourne, with its proximity to the water and all, could have been made into something really special. Instead it reminds me of my visit to the center of Atlanta USA, another place where cars rule and pedestrians are considered pests. Is that what we've come down to? Is this our role model? We could have had an area that is almost Sydney Opera House special (and the Sydney analogy is no coincidence, with most decision making in Melbourne being driven by its inferiority complex to its more glamorous counterpart). Instead we got some big huge concrete monoliths, more shops selling the same things as all the other shops, and an area no one would give a shit about.

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