Monday, November 21, 2011

Smith street

White Melburnians don't like Smith street the way it is today but the past they long for never quite existed. For some reason though it's preferable to yearn for an imagined past than to enjoy the way things are right now. White Melburnians actually prefer some degree of gentrification than none at all. They would never admit this though as many of them lament the processes of gentrification even when they are the gentry. But would you prefer Smith street to return to its smack dealing heyday circa 1999 and get hassled by junkies every time you went there? No? Then you like gentrification!

But Smith street isn't completely gentrified yet because it still has plenty of boarded up shops, amateur graffiti and dive bars. It even has an empty lot overgrown with weeds! Yet this is balanced with an overabundance of salons, Japanese restaurants and Cavallero. Seriously, if you want to get your hair done and eat some udon there's no better place than Smith street. But it's a delicate balance so appreciate it now. One more salon or Japanese restaurant and it'll be a gentrified, sanitised, yuppie suburb with *gasp* late-thirties-women-in-expensive-jeans-pushing-strollers! They might even put-their-keys-and-smartphones-on-the-table-while-meeting-for-coffee! This is the white Melburnian version of hell. So enjoy Smith street today. You'll miss it when it's gone.

I reckon Smith street is at the perfect level of gentrification right now so we have to appreciate it otherwise we will never progress as a culture. A culture can still thrive even when the stories it tells itself are retold over and over as long as these stories are adapted to the times in which they are told. So to avoid entering a Dark Age I suggest we recognise the cyclical processes of gentrification - neighbourhoods boom and bust over decades. There will always be a street like Smith street in Melbourne. It won't be exactly the same but this is okay because healthy cultures naturally change and evolve. While Smith street might end up like Acland street it won't matter because another street will rise to take its place. Even though Acland street still retains some gems and Carlisle street now has an appeal that wasn't around back in Acland's Golden Age. But white Melburnians usually do not lament the lack of affordable housing for the poor or the closure of local businesses that are typical consequences of gentrification - they're just pissed off their streets now lack the gritty charm they believe only the poor can provide. So we need a more inclusive way of talking about gentrification.

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