Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Urban images

I picked up a coffee from Cibo's the other day. They like to emphasise their Italian heritage. I could see it in the picture of two ridiculously good-looking people riding on a vespa without helmets that was up on the wall.

There was also an interesting picture above the counter. I tried to take a picture of it but because it was so glossy, all you could see was the reflection of what was behind the picture so I have to describe it.

It was a cartoon picture of a Cibo cafe. It was not like a usual Cibo cafe which is either on the ground floor of a modern office building or in a concrete shopping centre surrounded by car park (to be fair, there are some exceptions like the one on Prospect Road). Instead it was on the ground floor of a funky looking two storey old building. Outside the Cibo in the picture is a little table with an umbrella. At the table sit two groovy looking and smiling people. At the counter is a man in his Cibo shorts and t-shirt and his cycling cap - no helmet of course - standing next to his bike while ordering from the smiling Barista (Bean Bar does the same thing. The store on Gouger Street has a picture of a happy pair of teenagers riding their tandem bike across some sand-dunes). It's all very happy and fashionable although quite distant from real life.

I find it's a bit like children's books. A good example is the Magic Hat by Mem Fox. Here's a page:

Have a look at the street. There are no cars, children are walking around with their families, the playground is close by and facing the houses. People rarely have to wait for traffic and if they do, it's usually a single brightly coloured convertible driven by a friendly bunny rabbit. It's very different from real life. In real life, this street would have plenty of on-street car parking and driveways every few metres. It is doubtful whether the playground would be there at all. The business on the corner would have a big sign saying "Free Parking" with an arrow pointing to the rear of the property.

In my experience, this is the case with many children's books. Towns and villages are happy and safe places, lots of people are on the street and cars are few and far between. Sesame Street is like it too.

One exception that I have come across is a book called the Tiger Who Came to Tea. In summary, a hungry tiger knocks at the door of a house where a girl and her mother are. It is hungry and so they give it some food. It stays hungry and ends up eating all of their food. Dad comes home to an empty pantry and so they go out for tea. The moral of the story is to ensure you have tiger food in your pantry. Anyway, as the family is walking to the cafe, they walk aong a road that looks a bit like England in the 1970s, which it probably is (regrettably, I can no longer find the book so cannot scan a picture of it). Nevertheless, parking is limited to what is on the street, the pavements are wide and there are interesting shop fronts to see. Also, judging by the book, the High Street is close enough for a family to walk to safely even though they are hungry because a tiger ate all their food.

Alas, real life is not always like that. It can be if you live in the right suburb but we don't seem to build suburbs good enough for children's books any more. It would be a great test. Instead of council rules and urban planning manuals, I think we should just have a read of a book like the Magic Hat before we build a suburb. Build that and you will be well on your way to a very friendly place.

Except for the giant scary man who appears at the end.

Update: 16 May 2015

I found the picture from the tiger book:



  1. I just read this and thought it would interest you.

  2. I love it. A very sensible policy.