For those not from Perth, or those who just haven't happened to have heard about this - about a week and a half ago, the New York Times published a gushing piece about Perth, by Baz Dreisinger, that was met with a mixture of heady emotion. Some locals were jumping with joy at this momentous recognition while others seethed at its inaccuracy and complete lack of even an attempt to understand Perth's deeper layers. 5 days later and cue the almost equally viral rebuttal of Dreisinger's piece by so-called "Jimmy the Exploder", a local boy now living in Williamsburg, New York, this time published by the Guardian.
While the reactions to this in some part were similar, it actually saw a more critical approach to this unexpected bout of international press - we all recognised that the NY Times article was effectively comprised of fluff, but we certainly didn't appreciate our city being labelled "a frustratingly conservative, culturally-starved, unaffordable backwater". We may not be more hipster than Williamsburg, but Jimmy's quip is based on the Perth of a few years ago and was pretty damn insulting to all those who have stuck around to make Perth a better place.
I was reading through some old writing today and I found this piece about adjusting to the move from a big city to a small one, where clinical sprawling suburbs (far from the "hip urban villages" of Dreisinger's imagination) are the norm and the Central Business District is fairly well empty by nightfall. And so, while the discussion about Perth has faded with the 24-hour news cycle, I figured why not publish this piece now why it's still semi-relevant. Here goes...
It's very strange going from a big city to a small one. I grew up in the outer edges of Australian suburbia believing that all cities were just clusters of shiny steel and glass, towers reaching ever further into the clouds. The city was a place where kid's Dads went to work every day before coming home for dinner, and not much else.
As I ventured further into my teenage years, I began to realise that the city could be a little more than that. It could be a place to hang out with friends, find food, entertainment and clothes, but again it didn't seem to encase much else.
So you can imagine the joys and the culture shock that came with discovering a city where people lived, worked, breathed. Where everything was connected by a well-oiled (and well graffiti'd) metro network alongside trams and buses. Where the idea of coming home between classes for lunch wasn't an absurdity.
I don't know though if you could imagine the shock of returning to the city that seems mostly still to be just a cluster of towers reaching for the sky. I love my city, I do, and I know that just on the other side of the train tracks there is a burgeoning cultural scene doing their best to brighten our streets. There are food fairs and craft markets, art collectives and rad cafes, florists & bars, but it's just not quite the same.
I miss the bustle of people. The crowds and the sirens and the people doing their weekly grocery shop on one of the busiest commercial shopping streets in one of the world's famous cities. I miss the never ending events and the different languages floating through the air. Heck, I even miss the men who appeared out of nowhere to sell umbrellas the moment a singular raindrop fell. But mostly, I miss the proximity.
I miss the part where the cultures couldn't help but to become muddled. There was no chance for everyone to be kept neatly in their boxes - this group here and that group there. Everyone was together. They might look and stare and complain but, apart from the occasional small pocket of concentrated ethnicity, there was no hiding.
It's very strange going from a big city to a small one because suddenly one feels ever so aware of the world going on around them and without them. The empty streets of suburbia that leak ever slowly into the great outdoors seem like a falsity, a kind of absurdity, and it isn't something that can be happily ignored.