© Mankyboddle


Golden Grave - Revisited

by Frank Mankyboddle

... "...a provisional figure for the per capita ecological footprint of the citizens of Adelaide, drawing on statistics for the whole of Australia, is around eight hectares per person. If everybody on Earth lived and used resources like Australians do, four planets would be required, yet we have only one increasingly damaged planet available for us to live on." ...

Adelaide "Thinker in Residence" Herbert Girardet - "Creating a sustainable Adelaide" page 8

While the world has been familiar with the proverbial "Golden Cage" , South Australian visionaries have for many years worked on an equally poignant metaphor for the world of architecture and urban planning: the "Golden Grave". One of Adelaide's most sought after "Golden Graves", the north-eastern suburbs development "Golden Grove", can be taken as a striking representation of the Australian dream: a nightmare in environmental, and not least social, terms once the conclusions of the very politely phrased Girardet-report sink in.

Upon arrival, though, I was euphoric. Having escaped the stony city of Berlin with its 5 floors of apartment gravity in the darkness and cold of late November, I felt as if something, that was mine, but forgotten, was returned to me. The sweet fresh air and a lush Burnside garden, which merged with the vast blue sky and the continent it sheltered, was like one of the kept promises this land once seemed to make.

Having spent crucial years of my life in Adelaide, which is home to my closest family members and very close friends, the place is familiar, very familiar. So familiar in fact that coming here doesn't seem like a holiday, which it nevertheless is. Whenever I am confronted with the question, which place in the world I consider home, my intelligebility drops to irritatingly low levels leaving me and my opposite confused and eager to change the subject. However, one image with which I seem to associate home in my head tends to always be the same: the egg-yolk yellow carriages of Berlin's underground railway, the "U-Bahn".

Now, the Berlin "U-Bahn" is only by a very general principle connected to the Adelaide "O-Bahn". Both fall under the category of "public transport". But whereas the "U-Bahn" is a monument to civic urban pride and a sense of equality, the O-Bahn is a memorial to a hopeless situation in a state that has no vision regarding the efficiency of its urban transport system and which divides its citizens in two classes: car-owners and non-car-owners. The O-Bahn is a token gesture in times when the world tries to give meaning to such noble concepts as "sustainability". Adelaide has no integrated tram-system, which could use existing railway-lines to Noarlanga, Gawler etc. nor a bus-service that converges on one single central bus-terminal with coordinated arrival and departure-times. Instead, passengers coming from, let's say, Tea Tree Plaza are dumped in the city in order to continue their journey to, let's say, Skye from a busstop somewhere - sometime... Crosstown journeys will not be something that any person will attempt unless forced to do so by their social status.

Even though there are obvious disadvantages to living in an evironmentally more efficent city, as is Berlin, the claims to convenience that are implicit in the total car-culture of a city like Adelaide, elude me. I fail to see the convenience of the "into the car - out of the car" routine in order to buy a bunch of flowers. My Berlin conveniences are spread over a few streets, those in Adelaide over a number of suburbs, the main streets of which have a curious resemblance to the navigation on commercial websites. The occurrence of real live people on either often seems of equal proportions. It's worse in the "side-streets", if this is an appropriate term. Even though the signs of human habitat can not be overlooked, sightings of the species are rare and probably under the investigation of the BBC "wildlife and nature" staff. The atmosphere, even during rushhour, is eerie, when cars, seemingly remote controlled disappear behind real remote controlled roll-a-doors. No kids playing on the front lawn, no pedestrians, no shops, no streetcafés.

It is ironic, even though the "al fresco" chique of the Adelaide middle-class insinuates a "mediterranean" way of life, very little about Adelaide is mediterranean other than the climate. Mediterranean cities, styled on renaissance and antique visions, were more concerned about the "res publica", the public life. In Adelaide public life is an option, not a passion like that which can still be witnessed in mediterranean cities of today.

Public life is a pedestrian affair, something that is conspicuously absent in Adelaide. The "tyranny of distance" is not created by the vastness of the continent but by the policy of declaring ownership of a quarter acre block an inalienable right for all Australian citizens. This in turn leads to the tyranny of the motor morons with their absolute claim to the right to own a V8 "killing machine".
Many Australians like to malign the Americans for waging a war for oil in Iraq. This is totally hypocritical since Australians consume petrol with equal disregard to the environment and world politics. And nowhere more than in Adelaide where, statistically, every second person between the age of one and a hundred years owns a car.

And it's true. Among all my friends in Berlin I know a couple that own a car. In Adelaide I have none who don't.


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