Australian Non-Urbanism

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Speaking about urbanism in Australia seems like an oxymoron: urbanism is a European expression that is almost entirely abstract in the Australian context, despite aspirations toward ‘European-ness’ in some markets. While Australian cities were built in the 19th century, often with very fine neoclassical architecture on interesting and surprisingly perceptive city layouts, in the 20th century Australia, like America, became suburbanized. The history of suburbanization reads like a textbook litany of modernization: changes in labour forces due to industrialization, together with immigration, leads to a massive influx of population which, combined with the improved financial situation of much of the population, particularly in the post-war period, becomes dispersed from the urban core thanks to the automobile and the availability of cheap land. With this dispersion comes an erosion of what has traditionally been European urbanity, and with little real regulation from government and a decline in the funding and meaning of civic institutions, the market has become responsible for creating what are really just icons of the public realm rather than real and enlivening public spaces that lead to a rich community life. In response the design industry fluctuates between two poles that every thinker, including this author, switches between regularly, particularly as they travel to other cities in the world, wondering: ‘Why can’t Australia be like this?’. Those poles are at opposite ends of a scale of density (high to low), but the contrast is really between figure and ground, or between constraint or lack of constraint. Australia loves exemplars, which leave what Leon van Schaik has called ‘dim resonances[1]’, and so it is useful, particularly after a period of travel, to think of Australian cities in relation to the others that ‘Australia could be like’, even while we love, and in that typically Australian way, hate, Australia as it is.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSunburnt
Subtitle of host publicationlandscape architecture in Australia
EditorsSueAnne Ware, Julian Raxworthy
Place of PublicationNetherlands
PublisherAmsterdam : SUN architecture
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9789461052001
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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