At the Right to the City Symposium held in April 2011, Jesse Adams Stein, blogger of Penultimo, convened a panel to discuss placeblogging. In framing the event, Jesse blogged “place blogs enact a very specific act of watching, witnessing, monitoring, recording, sometimes celebrating, sometimes protesting – on a very local level.” The panel was comprised of veteran placebloggers including Matt Levinson and Polly Levinson who write Darlinghurst Nights and Meredith Jones of Marrickvillia, as well as me as the writer of PlaceBlog. The motivations for placeblogging are diverse and the panel presented their perspectives and approaches. Sydney-based Penultimo, Darlinghurst Nights and Marrickvillia are rich with intimate observation, cultural phenomena and place based inquiry. PlaceBlog isn’t about a particular place. However, through it, I seek to enhance my engagement with my middle suburban locale, to eventually find in it my own sense of place. I also use this blog, sometimes, to make a claim for a better deal for outer suburbs in this city.
Penultimo expresses a particular motivation for discovering or creating place in the ‘nowhere that is in the middle of everything’ – Ultimo is a small suburb portioned by thresholds. Stein identifies this as a pecularity yet as she blogs she reveals fragments of a place that is many places, often overwritten and undersold by the rhetoric and aspirational promises of urban planning. Where Ultimo suffers from a surfeit of urban planning, infrastructure and design, Aspley, the postwar middle Brisbane suburb where I live, seems to suffer a deficit. Both Stein and I share a sense of living in an indefinable place that struggles with its identity. That’s perhaps where the commonality ended as Penultimo became embedded in community dynamics as a dialogic space of care and concern. Jesse has grown to love her inner city situation and I have come to initiate change through the Enabling Suburbs project. Vignettes, rather than litanies, about my middle suburban environment now appear the blog.
The panel provoked a brief post-event conversation of blogging, counter-blogging and twitter exchange between those present at the session – both panellists and audience – about how and if blogging occurs in inner city and outer suburban environments. A particularly thoughtful and provocative response came from Alex Gooding, a consultant with extensive experience in regional and urban advocacy and research, in which he explored the inner/outer divide. It’s a binary that persists and the outer suburbs, for example, are not referred to as the ‘outer city’ – the suburbs are detached. He posed the question, “why are hardly any place blogs written about specific outer suburban locations such as places in Western Sydney?” which elicited a wave of responses. These included speculation about lifestyle choices, digital literacy, lack of activation, and car dominance.
In a blog post recording a report to intrepid placeblogger Lucas Ihlein, Jesse noted “People asked – does no one blog about the western suburbs of Sydney because they’re not WALKING out there, they’re driving?” Walkability, then, might have some correlation to blogability. Walking – ranging or drifting – is a spatial and embodied methodology used in Lucas’ placeblogs, Bilateral Petersham and Bilateral Kellerberrin. It infuses the blogs with a sense of ‘being here’. As art projects, these works “co-exist with every day life on its own terms”. These projects also interrogate blogging as a relational experiment where the public and private both blur and interact.
There’s curiosity, rumination and encounter in placeblogs. There’s life in those words rolling with the restless and eventful minutiae of everyday life; sometimes there’s gossip. Blogging makes the seemingly pointless and hyperlocal matter, even poignant. Experience; a lived and grounded experience. Blogging is experiential – it implores intimacy in the first person. Outer suburbs, however, tend to be drive by. Alex makes the point that “the nature of suburban life means that the nature of place is different … social activity takes place over a much larger geographic range in car-based low-density suburbs.” He also noted that because of these spatial differences, outer suburban blogs are likely to have a different feel than those arising from the inner city.
Placeblogging means we can advocate for, speak for and write our places. This discussion recognised that place presents both personal and cultural experiences and that there is a relationship between blogging, immersion and agency. That is, it recognised that place writing and place blogging calls for a contextual or situated engagement with both text and place.