In 1956, Johnny Cash penned a song that spoke of the eternal vigilance needed to balance choices that were easy and tempting, and those that were hard but ultimately better for him. The song was ‘I walk the line’. It is said that hearing a demo tape played backwards inspired the song tune – I can relate to this. It may seem surprising but many an artists’ inspiration has come from a creative misread; sparking an alternative way of seeing a problem and embracing a false premise to develop a wholly different response. Often, this comes in the form of accidentally reading a ‘section’ as a ‘plan’, or – in the case of my first year design studio program head – ripping apart the physical model I’d spent all week making and putting it back differently. A roof inverted. A cantilever re thought. A whole section of the plan removed and separated from the main form.
This ability to suspend the present, and imagine an alternative reality is just one capacity the ‘creative’ mind brings to communities. Their ability to ‘walk the line’ between the ‘now’ and the ‘possible’. Some fans suggest that the original title of ‘Walk the line’ was ‘I’m still being true (to myself)’. It may just be rumour, but there’s a nice theme to be drawn from both these stories. Somewhere in there is an admission that, if Johnny didn’t remain absolutely hyper-vigilant, that it would all come to a crashing end. And that ‘walking the line’ was only possible thanks to having his eye fixed firmly on a constant; a value set so clear in his mind that it made choices self-evident. And the original song title – “I’m still being true” – somehow revealed a deep desire for authenticity.
In what may seem a real stretch, what if we applied these two ideas to community building? The thought was posed in my mind last week at the annual national conference of Australia’s architectural peak body, the Australian Institute of Architects. In a session that explored how we negotiate the boundaries and definitions we give to things, the discussion looked at how architects and landscape architects ‘walk the line’ in their work; between intervening and not, between new and old, between collective and individual. And, by extension, how cities ‘walk the line’ every day; between chaos and control, between the planned and spontaneous, between economic rise and fall.
Cities of the past were planned around defined zones. We had a work zone (the CBD, the factory etc). We had a ‘living’ zone (our suburbs). And we had a ‘rural’ zone. That was the green bit where farmers and livestock lived. Today we’ve realized that zoning has produced many of the issues we face today. Clearly chief among them is traffic congestion. Each day we empty the suburbs to travel to commercial centres. Along the way we drop kids at school (what did happen to school buses?), or at daycare. Some cities have turned to car-pooling, or shared bike schemes to alleviate the pressure on roads, and to give a genuine alternative. But bike lanes take decades to become a joined up network, and car-pooling only accounts for a small percentage of trips made.
Many in the area of public health note the link between traditional zonal planning and the escalating instance of obesity, diabetes and a frightening projection in dementia (an increase of 350% by 2050). We’ve fallen in love with the idea of ‘convenience’: parking at the door, food delivered at will, air-conditioned comfort at all times. And in the process – as Dr Tony Capon from UNSW’s Faculty of the Built Environment knows – we’ve deviated from our biological predisposition of ‘hunter gatherer’ and become ‘homo conveniensus’. Remember that bit about choices that swung from ‘easy and tempting’ to ‘ultimately better for us’?
Perhaps on this one we’ve wandered off the line and need to look once again to restore balance. And perhaps, we might return to a more ‘authentic’ quality of life. A quality of life that is not ‘generic’ but celebrates an innate cultural identity of its people; Norwood is a great example of a community that bursts with the stuff of its DNA. In a city that is spending an inordinate amount of time coming to terms with ‘mixed communities’; Norwood lives it. As we encourage others to build communities around an established centre. Norwood has it.
Maybe we should ‘walk the line’ a little more in Adelaide; stretching some of our preconceptions about how we define things. And whether we even need to. Another tenet of successful city shaping is knowing when to ‘leave it alone’. Sometimes we need to design with gaps; bits for the community to fill in and own. And, every now and then, to get it ‘wrong’. In walking that line we negotiate the balance between what Rem Koolhas calls the ‘Generic City’ and the authentic experience of a place connected to its past, and confident about its future.
Tim Horton, SA Commissioner for Integrated Design
Getting to know a Council is a big and exciting task – particularly one that has a rich heritage such as Norwood, Payneham & St Peters. The opportunity to take up this unique role of Lead Creative for the City fills me with some trepidation. It is a bold initiative and we have chosen to begin modestly by starting community conversations that will slowly build into lasting initiatives.
I am an interdisciplinary artist with a background as a writer and director. I have worked with many communities over the years and have always been amazed by the transformative power of art, and its potential to act as a catalyst for change. I am hoping that our multi – disciplinary, and multi – faceted conversations, can contribute to a debate about the City’s relationship to the creative sector and foster new connections within it’s boundaries and beyond.
This blog is one of the vehicles to help enable that conversation, so I look forward to your comments over the next months as we ‘think through the city’ together.
Teresa Crea, Lead Creative
When we think of culturally vibrant cities with a strong community focus we often leave out business; it is something practical and removed from us as citizens. It may not be clear at the moment, but we are undergoing a transition from process to creative economies. The very things that make up culture and community will be the stuff of business, but not business as we know it. The great work of local groups like MEGA and Renew Adelaide show that today’s entrepreneurial mind set relies much more on culture and creativity for success and that once barriers are taken away, business suddenly has the potential to be a community and cultural activity, helping us to create the environments we enjoy, not one were we are subservient consumers. South Australia does this sort of thing well, if we look to our strengths, build what suits us and resist the pressure to slavishly copy other cities we will achieve the types of communities we want. We have everything we need right here, we each just need to trust our own vision and come together to make it real.
Gavin Artz, CEO Australian Network for Art and Technology
There is nothing better than a daily walk along the River Torrens with man’s best friend – my dog.
There are just so many advantages including getting fit (for both dog and human), but the social aspects of meeting and greeting other people can not be under-estimated. The daily changing scenery of the river and surrounding areas is a privilege to see. The strength and severity of the river after a downpour is impressive and the impact of he recent drought and low water levels was concerning. Living so close to the river, neighbourhood conversations always include comments about the river - another true friend.
Julie Black, CEO Arthritis Australia, Felixstow Resident
There seems to be a growing acknowledgment that the arts reflect our identity, our social conscience, our human lens on the world.
It’s an organic ‘thinker in residence’.
Integrating diverse forms of arts (performance, film, visual and music), organically throughout our City and our society, ensures that our human condition is fully expressed – irrepressibly. It’s our insurance towards creating a rich, vibrant, diverse and fulfilling life. (more…)
I have lived here for a long time – most of my life- but the thing that has kept me in the precinct, despite the rising cost of living, is its vitality. It has an air or sophistication that comes from the culture of the long-term residents, particularly of Mediterranean heritage, that have provided a sense of community connectedness – a sense of family. Today this sense of living ‘vita’ has been taken up by the coffee shops and the commerce.The business world can take advantage of it, but it stems from a culture of community and sharing that I would like to see extended into other cultural endeavours. I like the idea of reinvigorating public spaces with culture – creating a hub that goes beyond commerce. I see fantastic potential in things such as the community garden for example. The other thing about this part of town is that it is quite green; it has lots of tall trees. The city has a certain considered attractiveness – it isn’t plastic or synthetic.
Andrew Stock, Sculptor, Local resident of thirty years