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Death of a neighbourhood Death of a neighbourhood
by Nikos Laios
2021-10-19 07:19:00
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A large majority of people in the western world now live in cities, and invariably in large cities, and these cities contain neighbourhoods which are self-contained small communities. The industrial revolution stimulated the growth of large cities, and over the course of the twentieth century, large cities in Europe, the USA and around the world soaked in an increasing number of people who made their homes in the honeycombed cement, brick and steel warrens. From the gaslit streets of the early Twentieth Century to the new cities of neon lights reflecting on cold steel and glass towers.

nik00001_400Since the dawn of human history society has evolved in villages and small towns, places which glowed with the warmth of the hearth, where smiling faces listened to myths and stories around fireplaces. The annual spring and summer rituals, the sowing, planting and reaping, and various festivals would mark the calendar. That’s the kind of life that this writer knew growing up in the highlands of Northwestern Greece for a period of time in my early years. But like most, I now live in a large growing city that seems on the surface of things to be a cold and sterile place without emotion. A shallow materialistic city in the new world without culture. Sydney like many other cities in the new world has that new and shinny quality to it. It’s a harbour city with extraordinary beauty, and for many years I was convinced that it was a cold and sterile place.

Yet I have learned that cities over time - whether new or old - soak up the energy of human existence and the souls of the people that have lived in them. Soak up the tapestry of human existence, experiences of love and loss, growth and success, tears and chaos, violence and transcendence. In the older cities of Europe, this feeling of a sense-of-spirit is palpable. That when walking through their ancient cobblestone streets, one can listen to the echoes of all the generations that have lived. The brick, marble, stone and wooden beams of taverns, churches, houses and public places have witnessed history, have secrets to tell. Yet that also applies to towns like Sydney, but to a lesser degree.

Large cities like Sydney have become the perfect vehicles for the individualism that now permeates the post-modernist relativist and particularist world. Where individualistic personal beliefs in religion/mysticism, materialism and atheism are the norms rather than the uniform rigid canonical religiosity that once held sway across the western world. Where for this writer, a personal existential journey in an impersonal large metropolis is the perfect fit, the perfect place to lose oneself, yet in that same impersonal anonymity, also the perfect place to find oneself.

I reflect upon all this as I slowly start to prepare to move out of my present abode, a small studio apartment located in North Sydney, which is the second closest suburb to the harbour just north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After living here for 16 years, I am moving to a suburb called Kirribilli, which is the harbour-side suburb located at the foot of the harbour bridge and directly across from the Sydney Opera House. A beautiful, leafy, wealthy suburb, that due to its location on a small harbour peninsula has kept the feel of a small village with a population of some 4,150 according to the latest census figures. The location also of several lush and lyrical harbour-side parks lining its shore. Whilst this writer is excited about a journey to a new suburb, I leave North Sydney with a heavy heart.

For whilst North Sydney might be deemed to be a more colder place due to the location of a large central business district, yet on the fringes of North Sydney are located small pockets of residential areas, and the one that I have lived in is just metres away from the towering steel and glass skyscrapers that are increasingly taking over North Sydney. When I first moved into North Sydney, it had more quaint residential streets and neighbourhoods that balanced the central business district. But in the last several years - due to developers or greed - large commercial and residential tower block developments have been slowly swallowing up and erasing the older quaint neighbourhoods, and the dying street that I am leaving.

Developers have bought a section of the street and will be knocking down several sites to make way for massive tower blocks. One-by-one, longtime neighbours that I knew are slowly moving out. At night, there are more dark and empty apartments than lit up warm apartments glowing with life. The apartment block next to the one I’m presently living in dates back to the 20’s or 30’s, three stories high and has a picket fence around the roof with a rooftop garden area, and up till the end of 2020, the tenants of that apartment would regularly hold parties on the rooftop area. Lace the rooftop area with fairy lights, a DJ would set up and play loud dance music, the babble and laughter and their conversations would float over the whole neighbourhood and mingle with the aromatic scent of cooking steaks and chops from a barbecue. The whole street would be led astray and become caught up in the energy and human activity of sharing, of these small groups of people celebrating life with joy and passion in the centre of a cold steel and glass city.

But the whole neighbourhood is dark now, neighbours from four apartment blocks are slowly emptying them out, and the same applies to the apartment block I’m presently living in, and I am leaving in less than two weeks from the time of the writing of this article. The neighbourhood, and in fact large areas of North Sydney have now become in this writer’s experience and opinion colder places devoid of any human warmth and spirit, and it’s a much sadder place. A place that I have lived a large chunk of life in, built a small bohemian oasis which became home to the largest creative wave of my life. Where I have lived richly and deeply, have experienced much love, some pain and loss, and it has sucked up a little bit of my soul into its brick heart.

Yet now is the time for new starts, for where there is death, there is also redemption and rebirth, and the quaint harbour-side suburb of Kirribilli awaits me, and a new creative surge and a new golden age. But the taste of sadness and mourning still lingers in my mouth, for this is the nature of the human condition. To live, to choose, to experience the good and the bad, to live authentically with freedom and rebellion. We are tribal creatures and we make our homes in neighbourhoods, and we collect memories and share them with others. Where the coldness of cities are superficial, for they are in fact filled with warmth and wonderful neighbours, where great things happen.

Charles Baudelaire once said; “The life of our city is rich in poetic and marvellous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as though in an atmosphere of the marvellous; but we do not notice it”. How true this is! Especially true of Sydney, and also of many other cities around the world with their many secrets to be discovered. While cities might seem to have a cold skin, in their depths live warm hearts; and with a lifetime of memories and experiences swimming in my own soul, I say one final goodbye, mourn the death of a neighbourhood, and say thank you North Sydney!

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Photos, including the Cover photo by Nikos Laios

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Don't miss Nikos Laios NEW eBook
The Silent Symphony
A collection of poems and paintings,
you can download for FREE, HERE!

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Also check Nikos Laios' EBOOK
Ida & Her Magic Camera
is online now and you can download for FREE HERE!
 
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