Why are “Tribeca” and “Madison at Upper West Side” in Melbourne?

The real Upper West Side, Manhattan - apparently you can now get all of this in Melbourne, Australia (much cheaper too!)

A few months ago, writer Julie Szego bemoaned the Americanisation of place names in Melbourne. She identified two examples – the “Madison at Upper West Side” development on the old Spencer St power station site and “Tribeca” on the former Victoria Brewery site in East Melbourne.

She invoked the spirit of Robin Boyd to explain just how easy it to sell the gloss and sparkle of New York to aspirational Melburnians:

Robin Boyd in The Australian Ugliness, the highly influential polemic about cultural cringe in the 1950s and early ’60s, observed that the most ”fearful” aspect of Australia’s low-rent mimicry of the American aesthetic ”is that beneath its stillness and vacuous lack of enterprise is a terrible smugness, an acceptance of the frankly second-hand and the second-class, a wallowing in the kennel of cultural underdog”

While Melbourne’s developers and apartment buyers pretend they’re living Sex in the City downunder, real New Yorkers are continuously inventing new, home-grown names to market projects. Here are six New York neighbourhoods you probably haven’t heard of:

SoLita: Downtown Manhattan, south of NoLita between Tribeca and Little Italy

FiDi: (Financial District, geddit?) Southern tip of Manhattan between the South Street Seaport and Battery Park City

BoCoCa: Brooklyn waterfront area comprising Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens, also known as Columbia Street Waterfront District

LIC: Southwestern waterfront tip of Queens, including Hunter’s Point (also known as Long Island City)

Two Bridges: Southeast of Chinatown beneath the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges

Southside: South part of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, near Williamsburg Bridge exit

Other examples – some of which resurrect old names or functions – include the Meatpacking District, Dumbo (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), East Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill. According to this writer, areas “like NoMad (north of Madison Square Park) and others like SoHa (south of Harlem) haven’t exactly caught on yet”. One commenter says that some, like Dumbo, were coined by the populace, not developers.

This has all gotten too much for certain New Yorkers. Suliman Osman reports that a Brooklyn (State) Assemblyman, annoyed that real estate agents are calling the area between Prospect Heights and Crown Heights “ProCro”, is calling for a Neighbourhood Integrity Act. One of his complaints is that rebranding lower income areas as hip could ultimately displace traditional residents. Read the rest of this entry »


Were those the good old days?

Here’s a fascinating look back to what planners (the MMBW) were thinking about Melbourne’s future nearly 60 years ago. In some ways not much has changed – like many contemporary planning proposals, this is propaganda but in those days they didn’t bother with thin disguise. I like the ending: “will it achieve your support?”.

It seems that even as long ago as 1954, workers were spending two hours a day commuting and not only were roads congested but so were trams and trains!

The founders of the city could not visualise that one day workers who could walk to their jobs would spend more than one hour each day getting to and from their place of work, that trams would be unable to handle the peak hour crowds, that trains would become hopelessly inadequate for the handling of the enormous flow of commuters into and away from the city, and that with the coming of the motor car the original wide streets would become incapable of handling the ever increasing traffic flows”.

I’m surprised the introduction shows old buildings like Parliament House rather than new ones. After all, this was the new world of modernism and Robin Boyd’s famous attack on Austericanism – the “imitation of the froth on the top of the American soda-fountain drink” – was a mere three years away.

I’m also somewhat surprised that even as late as 1954 the CBD was seen as sucking the life out of inner city retail strips – presumably places like Smith Street – and the inner suburbs were in turn being invaded by industry:

As the city centre has grown in importance, many old shopping centres have declined and the living conditions in many of the surrounding suburbs have deteriorated. Industry had expanded into them and people have moved farther out to live. This has often resulted in an undesirable mixture of shops, houses and factories and the growth of slum conditions Read the rest of this entry »