One night, on my way home from an Italian restaurant, I saw a couple of abandoned shopping trolleys on the nature strip. This is hardly hold-the-front-page news in urban Sydney. What amused me is that someone had gone to the trouble of “artfully” stacking one trolley atop the other. This is no mean feat; those supermarket trolleys weigh a bit.
I extended the joke by contributing a mock art review to my local community Facebook forum. I titled my photograph “Street art installation. Abstract. Artist unknown. 2020. A commentary on the futility of the supermarket duopoly and the alienating impact of Click & Collect. Alternatively: trolley mating season”. It seemed to capture the imagination and momentarily distracted my neighbours from concerns about helicopters and Betty’s bin mysteriously being stuffed with rubbish.
I even gave the “installation” a name “Narrabeen Gothic” and gave my friends t-shirts of the image for Christmas (whether they wanted one or not).
However, as is frequently the case, jokes have a way of turning into reality. It got me thinking about the motives for this trolley dumping, and the apparent disregard for the (rapidly) increasing property values in the area. And this is the point. This work of art was more likely than not “constructed” by younger folks in our community: people who are less likely to be able to afford live and work where they have been brought up.
Now it is good for young folk to get out and see the world, and I know some who couldn’t wait to get away from my area fast enough. However, unaffordable living costs are not good for those that want to stay, and it is not good for communities that need all forms of diversity, and also need the support of workers in a range of different jobs, some of which are typically done by younger employees.
It is all very well to say that every generation in large cities has faced the prospect of moving away to cheaper land to get a foothold. It is no longer a case that moving out means buying a greenfield site in Peakhurst, or an old shack on the Northern Beaches. “Out” means “way out”. And that has all kinds of consequences for communities and work.
The NSW budget is due to be handed down on the day of writing, and the Herald reports that the NSW Productivity Commission forecasts traffic congestion in Sydney to hit $13.1 billion in 2031.
There is talk of staggering school hours to combat this problem. Another way is to provide affordable housing in local communities to allow the low paid and the next generation to remain physically connected to their communities if they so wish. The need is certainly there.