On the corner is a banker with a motorcar

Liz has moved from one gentrified Melbourne suburb to another. She’s got feels about it.

I have the privilege of living within a short bike ride from the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville.  I say “privilege” because it’s is so gentrified that whenever I set foot on the astroturf of the permanent pop-up park, I get paranoid that I’m not middle class enough to be there.  And, guys, I’m pretty middle class.

I’m conflicted about Yarraville.  On the one hand, it’s a visually pleasing little corner of Melbourne, with lots of old buildings, delightful terrace houses and tiny narrow streets, full of interesting shops and other features that attract positive and twee adjectives.

On the other hand …

yarraville2Look, Yarraville isn’t just gentrified, it’s aggressively so, and to the detriment of the wider — and poorer – – community.  The pop-up park story is a case in point: when Maribyrnong Council removed the temporary park and prepared to shift it to a new location, the people of Yarraville whinged until the council changed its mind and made it permanent.  Cute!  And totally at the expense of less adorable, less wealthy parts of the municipality, that might have enjoyed all the benefits that temporarily closing a street for open space can provide. (The suburbs in the area that aren’t Yarraville are among the most disadvantaged across all of Victoria, so that’s nice.)

More recently, there was the hilarious and awful parking meter debate.  Parking is limited in Yarraville Village, and the streets are actually too narrow to accommodate heavy traffic.  The council attempted to address these problems by introducing parking meters.  The good people of Yarraville didn’t just have an adorable little protest, they resorted to actual physical violence at a council meeting, while also engaging in a nice round of vandalism. They apparently felt they had “no other choice” but to vandalise the parking meters.

Megan Darling, a spokeswoman for the anti-parking-meter group, said:

“We applaud people in the Arab Spring standing up and saying this is not right, but when it happens in Yarraville, people say we are yuppies,” she said.

THE ARAB SPRING. Imagine what would happen if City of Maribyrnong wanted to install a wind farm or something.

(Note to self: write to local councillor expressing support for any wind farms that may or may not be installed in Maribyrnong.)

Basically, if the City of Maribyrnong is Pawneethere’s even a grassroots movement for a new park, no pun intended — then Yarraville is Eagleton.

The hyperbole around gentrification, by gentrifiers, isn’t new. Hipsters moving from Fitzroy to Preston are refugees, because choosing to go eight kilometres north is definitely comparable to travelling across the world in a boat and then being forced to spend three miserable, hellish years on Manus.

Yarraville’s gentrification is a relatively recent phenomenon — my former boss still associates it with a violent rapist she was retained to defend in the late ’80s, and was amusingly solicitous about telling me to get home before dark.  (I didn’t bother telling her that I actually go home via Footscray.  She might have had a heart attack.)  But it was well and truly entrenched by the time I moved to the inner west.

And it’s a strange, exclusionary sort of gentrification.  Pricing people out of the suburbs where they’ve lived all their lives is never good, but Yarraville is oddly monocultural, for the area. It’s not exclusively white, but there’s a lot less diversity than I see in Footscray, or even the almost-as-gentrified Seddon, both areas where the gentrification has been driven by international students attending Victoria University.

(Seddon is so gentrified, it has a store dedicated to “diversity of dog culture”.  That’s peak … something right there.  But, oddly, it irritates me less than Yarraville — maybe because it’s less self-contained, with a busy road at one end of its main shopping strip and a down-to-earth Ethopian cafe, or maybe just because the dairy-free fro-yo place panders to my lactose intolerant needs.)
Yarraville has a non-Anglo immigrant history, but it’s not really evident in the local businesses, the way Italian and Greek and Lebanese and Turkish identities are all over even the fancier bits of Brunswick.  It’s just gone.


And the neighbourhood is full of middle class white people cliches.  For example, I went into the “village” last week because Coles had no avocados worth speaking of.  Neither did the two (two!) organic grocers, but they did have lots of ~exotic Asian and Middle Eastern ingredients~ — exactly the same products you could buy at the Footscray Markets, but in fancier packaging that’s half the size and twice the price, alongside paleo muffin mix and grain-free rice substitutes.

(Oddly enough, the Village Store also has really cheap cat toys.  Harvey approves.)

(See?  It’s not all negativity around here!)

For a good time, I recommend this 2012 blog post and its comments, all Deeply Concerned about the arrival of a burger chain and the presence of an Asian-owned nail salon (an “eyesore”) in the suburb.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of acting like middle class neighbourhoods are bland and soulless, while working class, ethnically diverse suburbs are ~so authentic and real~. Gentrification isn’t always boring and filled with vampires, sucking the life from communities.  Sometimes it leaves room for a few businesses that don’t cater to western European tastes, provided that the storefronts are cute and add just enough “local colour” to a street that neighbourhood guides can boast about its ethnic diversity, without actually requiring people who look like me to leave our comfort zones.

I also don’t want to pretend that I’m not part of the gentrification process — the specific suburb where I live is a bizarre anomaly that’s been middle class since it was created in the 1930s, but I’m still shopping in gentrified or gentrifying neighbourhoods, spending $5 on a single avocado at the Footscray Markets and generally adding to the white middle-class presence in the inner west.

yarraville1But Yarraville’s gentrification is particularly toxic: it sucks resources away from the areas that really need them, and offers nothing but overpriced organic supermarkets and a rather good book store in exchange, while residents have the nerve to carry on like their NIMBYism is literally revolutionary.  It has discarded its multicultural heritage in favour of bland exclusivity, and then has the nerve to look down on more diverse, less wealthy suburbs.

It needs less astroturf, more heart.

Oh, and if you were wondering, the council has put the parking meters project on hold for a few months, which I guess explains all the near misses I both saw and experienced while cycling through Yarraville this week.