Addicted to convenience

Sydney inner-city small bar, The Baxter Inn.

Sydney inner-city small bar, The Baxter Inn. Photo: Domino Postiglione DPP

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were sacred. Each week without fail, we started the weekend with a run to the shopping centre. Back in primary school, our regular haunt was Crows Nest Plaza, and if my brother and I behaved ourselves during the long, tedious loop through the supermarket, we were rewarded with a little square of fudge from the health food store. (“Health food” had a slightly different definition in the 1980s.)

In high school, we frequented Woolworths at Neutral Bay, a suburb whose very name implies blandness – presumably when names were being handed out, it sat on the fence. By then, we were old enough to grab our own groceries to toss into the cart. In my case it was almost always peanut butter, in hindsight one of many poor adolescent nutritional choices. We didn’t look in any of the smaller stores nearby because by then, Woolies had developed their trademark stock-everything fresh-food format, and it was just easier to buy the week’s supplies from the Fresh Food People Who’ve Gradually Destroyed The Other, Independent Fresh Food People.

We’d fill the boot with plastic bags and sometimes the back seat as well, and when we got home, we’d carefully transfer our purchases to the fridge and freezer and pantry. The weekend shopping calculation was critical – we had to buy enough to fill our packed school lunches each day and cover each night’s dinner because if we ran short, it meant shelling out for takeaway or wasting an hour or two more on a return supermarket run or, worst of all, braving the local mini-market, which meant paying considerably more to choose from an extremely limited range, very little of which was fresh.

Back then, life was organised around these missions to more built-up areas. We had a few small stores nearby like the newsagent who was our go-to sweet vendor, the perpetually grumpy dry cleaner and the little video store which went broke years ago. But anything more complicated, like seeing a movie or shopping for clothes or going to the post office or browsing in a record store, meant a special trip to another suburb in the car or by public transport.

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We lived fairly centrally – just a few stops north of the city on the train. But the places we could easily access on foot were, as a rule, streets of houses like our own. That was how everyone we knew lived, with the exception of one family who had bought an old fire station in the CBD. That seemed exhilarating, and yet eccentric – why would anyone want to spend their weekends in the place where everyone went to work?

Then at uni I moved into a house right next to campus, and my addiction to convenience began at roughly the same time as my addiction to coffee. Everything I could possibly want – or afford, more to the point – was around the corner, in the nearby shopping strip or, at worst, at the mall just down the road. My suburb had supermarkets, a post office, a cinema and even a discount department store, and I soon began to adapt to a life that required no planning. If we wanted to cook, we went and bought exactly what we needed on the day, but given the abundance of great cafés and cheap Thai food joints a stone’s throw away, that wasn’t even necessary. And if I fancied croissants on a Sunday morning, there they were, a short stumble away. As were several pubs, the source of most of those morning after-stumbles.

Back then, we had to pay our rent in cash, but that was easy because the bank was right there. So was the post office, for that matter, so we could pay the phone bill. And during the years of perpetual 21sts, it was easy simply to buy a gift on the way to the party, and get them gift-wrapped on the spot. Scoring pot was just as convenient, I’m told – I was one of those “square” students you hear about.

My student days got me accustomed to a life where everything you wanted was available right there, whenever you wanted. And when I left uni and had to find a place to live, it was a simple equation: if the choice was between space and convenience, then I’d choose convenience. And that’s why my first post-graduate apartment was in Potts Point – which is almost unaffordable nowadays, but back in 2003 represented pretty good value if you chose an older building. It’s one of the most built-up areas in Australia – nearly everybody lives in apartments, and their buildings tend to have shops on the ground floor. I loved the extraordinary array of food on my doorstep, even if I sometimes had to step over people who had passed out on my doorstep to get to it.

At the end of that lease, there was only one place I wanted to go: to the city proper. People look at me strangely when I tell them I live in the CBD, because I’m not a backpacker on a working holiday visa, sleeping in a two-bedroom apartment with nine people crammed into it, or a multi-millionaire in an enormous apartment with panoramic water views. I have a small balcony instead of a backyard, and there’s always plenty of traffic on the street outside, as well as crowds of people in various states of intoxication. But I’m a short walk from a supermarket, a cinema, endless restaurants, and also my work, and I still can’t think of living any other way.

So while people find my preference for convenience over space odd, I find everyone else’s preference for quiet, residential streets and spending hours each week commuting equally unfathomable. And the great thing is, the city keeps getting better. Small bars have been opening in rapid progression, and so are new restaurants and retail and leisure developments. More and more residential building keep going up, squashing more and more people into less and less space, and that means an ongoing increase in convenient facilities, and also Pie Face outlets.

I’ll probably sing a different tune if I ever have children – and if I want to sing tunes, incidentally, there are karaoke bars everywhere in the CBD. I’ll probably conclude that it’d be lovely to have a backyard and a barbeque and my very own Hills Hoist. In fact, I’ll probably end up driving my own tribe to the local shopping centre every Saturday morning someday, the way my parents did. But until that day comes, I’m a devoted city-dweller. Because in the end, who needs space when you can walk to yum cha?

That’s right, I can walk to yum cha. And yet people ask me why on earth I'd want to live in the city. My question is, why don't you?

48 comments

  • we live in the Cbd with out child, and it is the best thing we did. less space but more time together.

    Commenter
    loujay
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    May 10, 2013, 7:51AM
    • Why don't I? Because the beauty and climate of the Blue Mountains is simply more divine than the rush of the CBD. I live very close to town and can access food, pubs, cafes, supermarkets etc.

      I know of too many people living up here who make that long, depressing and frustrating commute to Sydney (either by train or by car). It's simply horrendous and I really feel for them. I always wish that there were jobs here other than hospitality and retail. They leave on the 6.30am train and get home on the 7.30pm one. That's not a life, that's a sentence.

      Commenter
      grooviechickie
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 8:07AM
      • To each her own, though you answered your own question.

        Sure you have access to shops and cafes, but don't seriously try to suggest the small offering in whatever mountains village you live in is comparable with the variety of the city.

        Commenter
        Bejo
        Date and time
        May 10, 2013, 1:03PM
      • Bejo, I'm not comparing, but IMHO it's better than living in the city. Dom asked why we don't all live in the CBD. The villages are amazing up here, as voted by the flocks of tourists which inundate us each and every day.

        Commenter
        grooviechickie
        Date and time
        May 10, 2013, 2:44PM
    • So, Dom, was this a Freudian slip "but given the abundance of great cafés and cheap Thai joints food a stone’s throw away"??

      Commenter
      Uncle Snapper
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 8:55AM
      • Fixed now. Thank you for spotting!

        Commenter
        Daily Life
        Date and time
        May 10, 2013, 9:22AM
    • re: apartment living in the city. why wouldn't you? strata fees, loud neighbours, no control over density,pollution, building defects, high density renting (3 students to a room), fire issues around overcrouding, no pets allowed, smokers on the floor who skirt rules, no veggie patch (the ultimate fresh convenience - not just vegges stored for 6 months ), cost to buy is actually quite high. no space for a car or otherwise too expensive (if you have friends/family about), a car allows you to explore areas of low density (unlike the cattle class reliant on public transport) or weekends away, can't entertain at home (too compact), if you upgrade to a house later on (say for kids) stamp duty is an issue....in a flat market you can't rely on property appreciation.......in any case buildings depreciate and land appreciates in an up market...buying an apartment is actually buying a very small piece of land with bigger greater and newer apartments springing up all the time (which depreciate your property).

      of course if you mean renting in your early 20's in the city, i agree!

      Commenter
      confused
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 9:07AM
      • Strata fees = maintenance costs for a house; you don't avoid this cost by owning a house, you simply own all the responsibility.

        Noisy neighbours everywhere; less dogs in apartments than backyards.

        No more control over your other issues in houses either.

        Cost is high because amenity is high and the amenity drives demand.

        Flats have been appreciating on par with houses in key areas.

        All buildings depreciate, unless properly maintained, even houses, so again you're not making any real point, or sense.

        I'm married with two kids in a large new-ish north-facing inner west flat with cross-ventilation, basement parking and all the amenity of local (i.e. walking distance) parks, schools, shops, restaurants, railway lines, buses. We're very happy here thanks very much!

        Commenter
        Bejo
        Date and time
        May 10, 2013, 1:08PM
    • Hear, hear! Moved to the inner city aged 18 and have never looked back! When I run out of anything - it's at my doorstep. I love the buzz of inner city life and I wouldn't live anywhere else.

      Commenter
      yvette
      Location
      elizabeth bay
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 9:11AM
      • - Crows Nest / Neutral Bay is hardly the 'suburbs'.
        - 'Suburbs' is not a polar opposite to 'cosmopolitanism' (I dare say you'll find more cosmopolitanism in Fairfield than any inner-city area)(and probably walkable Yum Cha too)
        - What happens when you want some fresh air or just to be away from all those people? Public transport. Or if you want a pet? Or kids, as you mention.
        - There's always something happening in the city - great for diversity, bad for just trying to get around.
        - Food is getting much better as you mention but is still generally either cheap and nasty or hatted and expensive. Or food court. And try getting a decent coffee on the weekends outside a mall or Starbucks.
        - Finally, its not a choice between a 10 min walk to work and hours on a train commuting. I live 2kms from my job in the city and it takes me 12 mins to get to work, door to door.
        I guess its easier to generalise.

        Commenter
        RTTB
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 10, 2013, 9:13AM

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