I love you. I really do. I was born here (literally – at the old Queen Vic hospital, corner of Swanston and Lonsdale), and now live in an apartment where your skyscrapers are my view. Café culture, trams, buskers playing exceptionally high-quality music, crisp autumn mornings that collapse into rain – I’m down with it all.
And so you will understand, therefore, that this piece of criticism that I’m about to angle comes from a place of love and commitment. I just want you to be the best city you can be.
Ok, here goes: Melbourne, you’re a bit of a liberal wet dream. See, you pride yourself on your intellectualism, on your progressive politics, on the same intelligent articles that everybody reads over macchiatos and sourdough toast. You are full of good ideas – so many good, smart, progressive ideas.
And yet, sometimes I feel that your good ideas float in a happy bubble above the bricks and mortar, blood and dirt reality of the city itself. Don’t forget that you’re also a city where housing prices push people into far-flung, under-serviced suburbs, or onto the street, where international students cram into tiny apartments and get paid illegal rates for serving our dumplings, where the privileged, inner-city, progressive world is becoming more and more distant from the reality of the majority.
You see, good ideas are not enough. Nothing ever changes, nothing is ever done, with just a good idea. Do you think that if you develop the very best policy positions, the very best philosophical understandings, that you will really bring forth a city of equality and prosperity for all? Can a head do anything without a body?
Melbourne, I’m afraid to say that your organisations are becoming disconnected from their people, like disembodied brains. Paid professionals and organisational ‘experts’ run ‘services’ for ‘consumers’. Your churches are emptying out, your union memberships are dwindling. Your not-for-profits seek only money from their ‘members’ so that they, the professionals, can do the campaigning or run the unemployment service or kick start the social enterprise themselves. Civil society is being replaced by a series of transactions.
You’re head is big and impressive, Melbourne, but your body is atrophied and weak.
But because I love you, Melbourne, I want to work to change that. I want to give your body a workout, build up the connections to make a vibrant civil society again.
Will you work with me to do that?
We can do it over coffee, if you like.