The cityscape of our fine town is in constant flux, and often what’s buried by the reconstruction of the urban environment is not just memories and narratives which counter the traditional Quinceland theme of progress ever upwards but also distinctive spaces with their own cultural formations (something I related to music in the context of West End and Brisbane v. Brisvegas in an earlier post.)
I’ll have to try to dig harder to find a copy of the remarkable book of photos taken by Brisbane’s current Labor Deputy Mayor, Cr David Hincliffe (also a well known visual artist), of the Fortitude Valley streetscape and Valley people about ten or so years ago. I saw it in a library once. It was a remarkable experience to look at the photos – much as the subcultures and music and night culture of the Valley are often analysed (and sometimes in overtly romantic terms), there’s very little textual evidence of the Valley as a neighbourhood in existence. Hinchliffe’s photos and commentary in Two to the Valley captured a lot about what older Valley residents recalled about the shape of their neighbourhood experience and the trajectories of their shared lives as they intersected with place and each other. He was also all too aware at the time of writing that much of this was being swept away, not just by time, but by urban transformation.
And while you can trace lines of continuity between the dark and gaudy nights of the Vall in the 80s and the displacement of the alternative and queer scenes of the 90s in the early 2000s through a new sort of entrepreneurial commodification of entertainment, the Valley as a lived environment on a day to day basis has almost entirely been transformed into a thousand tiny apartments where hip and not so hip new urbanites only enter the written narrative through their support for, or opposition to, the “loud and proud” theme. It’s now a kind of post-neighbourhood. I’ve written a little about those nighttime continuities myself (and in romantic and late night mode!), and now I want to essay a venture into the cold light of day.
Because the forgotten Valley may be fading, but it hasn’t entirely laid down and died. Yet.
I’m aware of some academic work being done through the now tottering School of Humanities and Human Services at QUT about the problems that have occurred as the business community of the Valley (itself riven with factions and feuds) has tried alternately to display some social awareness and to drive the “seedy” Valley away. Much of this contestation can be mapped through the struggles of community organisations providing social services to the druggies and sex workers and Murris and unemployed of the inner urban landscape, whose very presence in that landscape is threatened by developers and rising rents and the distaste of property owners and businesses.
Over the past few years, gentrification and policing both have pushed the old Valley further and further West, outside the Brunswick Street Mall itself and into the long block that the railway station arcade fronts onto. That’s now where the smack deals are struck, where the pr0n is purveyed, where the remaining pool halls, strip clubs, peepshows and sex shops are, and where you really need to have a few coins in your pocket to give to those who ask for two bucks for a feed or a nonexistent rail fare.
Now, with the tizzying up of the station and its surrounding shops, only a few recalcitrant property owners stand between this liminal zone and its “revival”, and a few tweaks to the plan and some buckets of dollars will fix that. Already most of the op shops and the caffs run by social welfare organisations have disappeared.
Even the daggy Shamrock Hotel is now the “Scene Inn”. Or something.
That all brings us to the decayed industrial/warehousing/residential zone that rises from the railway line up through St Paul’s Terrace towards Gregory Terrace and the exhibition grounds, where the apartment complexes took hold of the commanding heights some years back.
While this is the area I’m characterising as a key node in “Forgotten Brisbane” (and in fact I want to imbue that phrase with multiple meanings and affects), for any observer of the changing Brisbane urbanscape, it was always on the cards that such territory was ripe for property speculation followed by a big push for more high end residential development.
Now the Council’s erection of a “Green Square” complex on the site of the old bus depot over the road from the Jubilee Hotel is giving the old a final push and a shove out in favour of the new. The planning stages of this project saw vociferous debates between prospective commercial tenants and residential developers, who unanimously objected to the plan for a methadone clinic in the precinct. I can’t quite recall how this ended, but I’d hazard a guess that it didn’t end well.
Anyway, I took a stroll last Monday from Anderson Street, where I’d been picking up a book for review from the On Line Opinion offices, and headed down Constance Street to Wickham Street. And I documented what I saw, including a house that’s talking back to the Council development over the road. I’ve uploaded the photos to my Deviantart gallery. Click through on the images and then click again for a larger view of the photos.
A decidedly unrenovated Queenslander.
I’ve seen what will probably happen here happen before in previous “urban regeneration” projects in Kangaroo Point and West End. A homeowner refusing to sell will either eventually leave after commercial development boxes the house in on either side, or the developers just wait out the lifespan of the elderly owners.
This gorgeous house, over a hundred and fifty years old, hasn’t been happy for the last two.
For sale, and touting “the vibrant Alfred Street precinct” which so far only exists in the imaginations and desires of the developers. I wouldn’t take bets on the dole office around the corner being there too much longer.
Abandoned and overgrown.
Now for some happier news. This building is a textbook example of a sensitive postindustrial conversion. There are some fascinating buildings – old factories, warehouses and stores – which have held out so long by virtue of being in streets between Wickham Street and the railway line that attract no foot or vehicular traffic because they go nowhere. One hopes they survive unmutilated. Of course, there are gains and losses here too – it’s worth lauding good conversions, but in a process with many parallels, cheap art, rehearsal and creative spaces are lost as those attracted by the area’s vibe move in and drive it out. To the credit of elements of the Council, particularly David Hinchliffe, there is at least some awareness of this and how it might be countered to some degree.
The last in the series, as I walked down Wickham Street towards Brunswick Street. Gentrification is finally creeping over the road and getting its first foothold on the West side of the Valley. The Salvos store is one of the few such left, and you can bet that the shop for rent won’t be an op shop. The cafe serving homeless people went earlier this year. I’m sure the developers of the Valley Metro Shopping Centre, which meets the street here through its notorious escalators, weren’t displeased.
One of the tragic things about the way in which “urban regeneration” plays out is the imbalance in power between the poor and loosely organised and community groups and the developers and self-interested. No one wants to preserve a decayed neighbourhood in aspic, and I shouldn’t be interpreted as arguing against urban transformations. But the degree to which those transformations can be shaped democratically is very much dependent not just on local politics, but also on what angle such politics are written about. Unfortunately, in a one paper town, there is very little public discourse in Brisbane about the social aspects of the changing urban forms. We need more papers like The Independent (and more power to them!), but we also need to think more laterally about how to shift the “Green Square” and its consequences into the public sphere.