Saturday 13 December 2014

"Is it a liveable city?"

someone asked me in a brief e-mail.
He was asking me about an article in the Guardian. I glanced at the article. It seems to be talking about whether Canberra is really a good city to live in. It is designated as being one of the best places in the world to live.
I spent four years living in Canberra. I also spent seven years living in London. Canberra is, supposedly, way ahead on the "liveability" stakes. London is right down the list.
If I had the right to live in London I would return in a heartbeat. I don't care if I never put a paw down in Canberra again.
I was at university in Canberra. The Australian National University was then considered to have the best law school in the country. You were taught by the people who had written the text books. They were people the High Court judges consulted. The students won the Jessup Moot competition while I was there. Some of my fellow students have gone on to great things. I was fortunate enough to win a prestigious scholarship while I was there and I am sure that my attendance at ANU was a contributing factor to my being awarded it.
At the time I was there the Senior Cat had cousins who were senior  figures in the diplomatic service. That also helped me. They were very kind to me and made sure I was invited to their homes and to other events. I met people I would never otherwise have met. Some of them were interesting and even pretended to be interested in me. Others were not.
People spent their weekends mowing their lawns, bushwalking, playing sport and, if something was going on, going to the Art Gallery or the annual folk festival.
So, I was fortunate I suppose. I had the opportunity to see two sides of life in Canberra when most students were only seeing one. And yes, I met some very nice people.
As is the way with life some of the people who taught me and some of my fellow students are, sadly, no longer alive. The Senior Cat's cousins are no longer alive. I remain in touch with just one of my fellow students - the mother of my godchildren. They do not live in Canberra and, like me, they would not want to.
Canberra is a sterile place. There are distinct divisions between the parliament and the people, town and gown, diplomats and other people. I crossed between the university and the diplomatic world only because of the Senior Cat's cousins and a very senior literary figure who was a family friend. If it had not been for them I would have met very few people, if any, outside the university. It was the same for most other students.
I was also fortunate enough to go to university in London. It was a totally different experience. Yes, I was again taught by people who had written text books. Again some of them could teach well and others could not. The institution I attended was focussed on research too. On the surface things should have been much the same as they were in Canberra.
But things were also different. London was an entirely different city to live in. Yes, university staff and students tended to mix with university staff and students but they also led their own lives. Yes, they did the sorts of things you would expect intelligent intellectually minded people to do like go to the theatre or a concert or an exhibition but they also went to the football, played tennis and squash. They went to the gym and some of them would take the train to the end of the tube line and walk in the country at weekends.
They could also spend a weekend in Cornwall or the Lake District, go to Cambridge or Manchester for a conference and go to Glasgow for a meeting. Holidays were spent in Wales or the Hebrides, in Paris or walking in Tuscany.
Not everyone did these things of course but there was always the sense of more than enough to choose from. Londoners were also friendly - and more than willing to help and make a small cat feel at home. You would turn a corner and come across a piece of history and someone would stop and point out another blue plaque or suggest you look around the next corner "because"...
London was often dirty. It was, for me, dangerous when it snowed and then melted and froze again so that the ground was slippery. I didn't like the traffic much either. It was expensive but there was plenty to do which was "free". It was full of tourists but they could be avoided.
And yes, I think it could be a very lonely place to live. Big cities are often lonely places to live. It would however be no more lonely than Canberra was for many of my fellow students and is for many of the people who live there. The public places there are often empty when the public places in London on a similar day would be full.
I think much of it has to do with the fact that, in London, people do not use their cars (if they own one) as much. They use public transport and walk more. They don't isolate themselves in cars. If people are out and about outside of cars there is more interaction.
You have the chance to observe other people and, perhaps, be more aware of them.
I might be wrong. London may be very different now. It was a long time since I was there. But, given the choice, I would still choose the less "liveable" city because London seems so much more alive than Canberra.


Helen Devries said...

I still love to return to London - not just to meet friends again, but to feel invigorated by all that goes on there.

Paris...forget it...

Oddly enough San Jose...tiny in comparison...has something of that same vigour.

catdownunder said...

I'd love to go back Helen -it's been so long though that I wonder how different it would be - but it would still be diverse and full of interest

Helen Devries said...

It's the people,I think...and plenty of events to go to and join in on...that certainly hasn't changed.