22.12.08

Notes on "513 Glenroy Line"

By Beatriz C. Maturana

Photograph by Matthew Lew, bifurcaciones


Three aspects fascinated me about Carlos Alcalde’s article, "513 Glenroy Line". The first is his sharp and direct commentary about Melbourne—no Anglo affectation, not masking the shock, no acceptance of local notions of correctness. The second is the content of course, particularly in regards to the harshness of the city, the commonly accepted (and general unawareness) of extremes of monotony. The third is his deep understanding of the way in which cities work, the interconnectedness of all, people, economy, form, distribution of architectural woks and transport. This last point interests me greatly because here Alcalde places himself in the urbanist' shoes and speaks as an urbanist would do (a American urbanist, non-Anglo that is). This cross-disciplinary understanding would not surprise anyone in a European or American (non-Anglo) context, although this is highly unusual here where separation among urban professional fields is extreme—to the point of ‘silence’. This lack of convivial collaboration and conversation among urban disciplines seem to be replicated in the city—a “kingdom of commodity”, of “super-survivors”, of postcard type of imagery and then… the suburbs, as Alcalde notes.
The magazine in which this article appeared is concerned with the inseparable issues of cities (urbanism) and culture. Alcalde fluently presents them as he asserts that,

La ciudad con estilo cuesta cara y casi nadie puede pagarla. La gente “normal” vive en los suburbios, que bien podrían pasar por una pesadilla de arquitecto fashion latinoamericano: sólo tres o cuatro estilos arquitectónicos distintos, repetidos hasta el cansancio. Ni un edificio, ni un quiosco… y silencio. Por todos lados, un silencio vacío. Porque así como no huele, no sabe ni se deja tocar, esta es una ciudad que tampoco suena. La comodidad parece haber matado los sentidos.
(…)
Aún no comprendo cómo una ciudad tan fácil, que funciona tan bien, me resulta tan insoportable.[1]


“A stylish city is expensive, and almost no one can afford it. “Normal” people live in the suburbs, and these could well be any Latin-American urbanist’s worst nightmare: only three of four different architectural styles, repeated infinitely. Not one building, not one kiosk… and silence. All surrounded by silence, empty silence. Because, the same way that the city has no smell, it does not allow itself to be touched, this is a city that does not create sound. Comfort appeared to have killed all senses.
(…)
I still cannot comprehend how a city that is so manageable, that works so well, can strike me as unbearable.[2]

According to Alcalde, in this “kingdom of comfort”, only pariahs don’t have a car. These are the children, the elderly, the alcoholics, the mentally retarded, the recently arrived migrant—the yet non-adapted ones, within which Alcalde places himself, in the 513 Glenroy bus line.


Find Carlos Alcade’s photo-essay in bifurcaciones (Journal of Urban Cultural Studies)

[1] Carlos Alcalde and Matthew Lew (photographs), "513 Glenroy Line," bifurcaciones [online], no. 7 (2008), www.bifurcaciones.cl/007/Melbourne.htm.

[2] Translated by B. Maturana

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