We’ve lived in a Melbourne CBD apartment building for just over four years, and the other day Paul made a casual observation about our living situation that made me stop and think.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit weird that we live in close proximity to more people than we have ever lived before, but we don’t know any of their names?”
Growing up in Bathurst I knew the names of people all up and down our street. Now, I barely have any communication at all with the other residents when I see them in the lifts. Beyond the occasional meaningless exchange about the weather or how long the lift is taking to get to the ground floor, people tend to remain silent and avoid eye contact until we hear the ding and get out of the lift and on with our days. It’s not that I feel any sense of hostility towards the other people who live in our building – at all – it’s just that I do not feel the need to be all chatty with my fellow residents. So what is that all about, then?
Maybe it’s because there are just so many people, around a thousand of us between the hotel that occupies the first few floors and the people who live in the apartments above. Even if I did make a conscious decision to try to get to know everyone, that’s way too many names to commit to memory. I can’t even remember what I had for lunch yesterday, so good luck with that.
Maybe it’s because as I hurtle towards the age of 47 I just don’t feel the need to go out of my way to make new friends any more like I did when I was in my twenties. I tend to chastise myself for doing a pretty poor job of keeping in touch with the friends I already have, so at this age and stage of my life I really don’t feel like I have a tonne of spare time or energy for new people.
Then again, maybe this is just what CBD living has done to me. Is the constant business forcing me to create a shell around myself in which I can then peacefully go about my day? Is that it? Dunno. Maybe. All I know is that whenever I go back to Bathurst to visit my family I’m always pleasantly surprised by the fact that Bathurstians will tend to say hello to you as you pass them on the street, whether they have ever met you before or not. Try that on in a big city and prepare to be pepper sprayed.
I did make a bit of an effort when we first moved in, but it didn’t last long. It was late 2014. The former drab office building we were soon to call home had just been completely gutted and renovated, so we were effectively the first people ever to live in our place. It still had that new apartment smell, and with facilities like a pool on the roof and a gym on the first floor I figured that there would be plenty of opportunities to find a sense of community there. For the first few weeks I would try to strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone I bumped into, like a hyperactive seven year old.
“Hi! What’s your name? When did you move in? Are you liking it so far? How good is the pool? Why are you slowly walking backwards away from me?”
Within a few weeks it became pretty obvious to me that our building was never going to be a social club, so I gave up and returned to my bubble. There have been exceptions. There’s a really sweet natured Indonesian dude who lives on our floor who is always up for a bit of quick friendly banter (friendly enough for me to know that he’s from Indonesia, not quite friendly enough for me to recall his name, but still…) and at one point there were signs posted in the lifts inviting the whole building to a movie night, “…for some bonding with your fellow residents, popcorn, and a screening of The Breakfast Club. Text Fiona to RSVP”, which earned a very firm “No thanks, Fiona” from me on about seventeen simultaneous levels.
It’s not just the disconnect from our neighbours that makes living in a CBD apartment tower interesting. There’s the never ending oddness of seeing rain but not hearing it because we are so far above street level, the nightly ritual of hearing a symphony of fire alarms going off because for some indeterminable reason the builders decided to put smoke alarms right over the top of the stoves in all of the apartments, and there’s the joy (for me, anyway) of standing on our balcony watching all the new buildings gradually springing into existence. Construction, like a lot of things I know nothing about, absolutely fascinates me, and there is a tonne of it going on in this city right now. Some nice ones, too. I will never stop appreciating how the new buildings in Melbourne aren’t just unimaginative fugly steel boxes as I watch them being slowly born.
My personal favourite is on the corner of Collins and William streets. It’s nickname is The Pant-Scraper because when the two towers currently under construction are joined together at the top, it will resemble a big silver pair of pants. (No, really. Google it!) From our balcony we can admire the ongoing construction of a massive purple skyscraper we have dubbed The Eggplant for obvious reasons, as well as a gargantuan tower on Spencer street that will soon house the six star (!) Ritz Carlton hotel. It’s going to be a monster, and the construction geek in me loves watching these buildings climb into the air to play their part in enhancing the Melbourne skyline.
But, and this is a very large Kim Kardashian sized but(t), the obvious downside of all this construction is the noise. When we moved in there was a moderate hum, and now as the cranes have moved closer and closer, especially since they started building something right across the street from us, I can’t stand to be on the balcony for more than a few minutes without noise cancelling headphones. Those things save the game for me. I wanna hug whoever invented those. Mr or Mrs Bose, I presume. Once I’ve got those things on everything suddenly gets peaceful again. It should be law that anyone who buys or leases a CBD apartment is handed a pair of noise cancelling headphones the moment they sign the documents.
A hidden advantage of living in such a noisy environment is that not once have we been asked to turn our music down, which I take to mean either that we have impeccable taste in music or that the people next door can’t even hear it over the cement mixers and the incessant jackhammering.
There’s still a lot to enjoy about living right in the middle of Melbourne. It’s a beautiful city to walk around, and when I don’t feel like walking the fact that trams are free inside the CBD is an added bonus. I haven’t even thought about owning a car while I’ve lived here, there’s great food everywhere, and thanks to the grid system even a geographically challenged individual like me finds it hard to get lost. The positives have so far outweighed the negatives, but the ever-increasing construction noise is starting to surface as a deal breaker.
It’s reached the stage where we are starting to talk about moving somewhere with a bit more space and lot less noise in the not-too-distant future. This is not a forever lifestyle, not if you want to preserve your sanity. CBD living has many advantages, and I’m glad we did it, but now that we’ve done it, I think we’re pretty much done with it.
Oh… wait! I remembered… Jason! The Indonesian guy’s name is Jason!