A view of the closest thing to the Empire State…on Bourke Street, Melbourne.
Hoboken, Madison at Upper West Side, Tribeca…all of these are in Melbourne. We wanted to know what the affiliation is with NYC, and why aren’t we calling our new developments other place names from around the world?
Place names are integral to the place itself, and Melbourne is no stranger to change. Initially called Bearbrass just after settlement, said to be ‘a misrendering of Birrarung’ by author Robin Annear, the Governor of the time insisted the name of the colony be changed to Melbourne after the then current British Prime Minister (one of the other options was Batmania!). Numerous other suburbs in Melbourne have undergone this name change – Newtown became Fitzroy, Emerald Hill became South Melbourne, etc. These names demonstrated an affiliation with the English homeland, and cashed in on the success of Melbourne’s dizzying rise as an international city following the gold rush.
So why the push towards the States? Doesn’t the latest census data tell us that we are a multicultural society with one in four Australians born overseas? The post war years ushered in a new fervour of progress just after a period of architectural austerity, and Australians longingly gazed at the US for the built environment model. And it seems that despite the current concept of a global city – incorporating the powerhouses of India and China, amongst others – we still choose to hark back to the stars and stripes. This is because the lifestyle in the States encompasses the aspirations of Melburnians, and these developments will recreate the dense urbanism of NYC with good connotations. Its a strategy of placemaking and branding, and demonstrates a cultural attitude towards how we view apartment living.
There was an interesting article in The Age last year about the naming of Melbourne’s districts – the Paris end of Collins, for example. The author made a good point – the one that slipped through the cracks was Eureka Tower, which used obvious references to the local Australian history. I wonder as the country’s population grows with greater cultural diversity, we’ll begin to see Chatachuk on Collins, Shibuya on Smith or Kowloon on Queen developments around town? Perhaps the higher density apartment living demonstrated in cities other than New York are the new aspirations of the future home owners? Or perhaps, in the footsteps of Eureka, there will be more local references in the language of property developers?
Photo above: Former Commonwealth Bank of Australia building, architect W Henderson, 1940, as seen on Tour 2: Federation to Art Deco. See here for dates of tours.