2 February 2007

A city before cars

Last night watching a DVD of Alan Bennett’s series ‘Telling Tales’, in which he simply sits in a chair and tells a meandering tale of his childhood in Leeds, I was struck by a comment he made about the streets of this provincial city in the 1930s.

He was talking about how most children carried around a mental map of their neighbourhood in their heads, especially containing all the hazards a child may encounter on the streets, like aggressive dogs, neighbourhood bullies, tramps and so on. He pointed out that one thing no child had to be concerned about were cars, as there weren’t any.

This immediately reminded me of looking at the catalogue I bought in Sydney recently, ‘City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912-1948’, in which the streets of this now congested city are completely barren of traffic. I always wondered why that might be. I thought it might have been the time of day the pictures were taken, or the length of the exposure. Now I realise it was that there weren’t any cars because no ordinary person owned one.

This flashed through my mind this morning while reading Michael Leddy’s post about his town and the sad state of footpaths there. He conjures up a place which is mainly given over to the automobile, with pedestrians a rare sight. Exactly the opposite of the city scene which would have greeted a visitor to Leeds or Sydney in 1938, or I imagine, a provincial orange-growing and movie-making community like Hollywood.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

Oh my gosh -- my town's rotten sidewalks stretching all the way to Australia.

Best wishes for married life, Sean, and happy birthday too.