The Bridge as a Threshold

2 days in, and already I feel like I’ve been in Brisbane for a while now. In fact, there’s a familiarity to this city, as if I’ve lived here before. But I’ve only actually been here once, for three weeks.

I am staying at a friend’s place in West End. And so, commuting to the city means walking across the river, and have a couple of bridges to choose from.

My favourite has to be the pedestrian bridge from the Maritime Museum that leads to QUT. From there, I cut across the Botanical Gardens, and am right on Edward street, and walk directly ahead towards !Metro Arts.

The walk takes about 30 minutes, or a little more at a leisurely pace. Especially in this heat, I do not recommend rushing. So I plan my time a little better, slap on the sunscreen, and carry an umbrella (a first in my life, considering I grew up in the sweltering Singapore sun).

Yesterday I walked with a sense of alertness, navigating directions from my memory. Today, I walked with a lot more ease. And as I crossed the Goodwill Bridge, I felt a sense of awe. There is something very powerful in that walk.

Walkways as transient spaces can often be overlooked in its importance, because we use them so very often, and mostly as residents, we move through them rather quickly too. But with the view of the city ahead of you, there is clarity and gravity as you approach. There is direction.

You are entering the City.

And whatever your purpose may be in the city, you crossed a river, over a height that does carry risk, and your eyes are on the skyline ahead of you. And at the end of the time spent in the city, you leave the way you entered.

You leave the City.

Perhaps it is in the nature of rivers, and a bridge being built over it offers a sort of autonomy and control over the natural environment that leaves us with such vulnerability, and yet awards us with a simple triumph, as we walk over it. Perhaps it is in the ability to look at and towards the destination, that emphasises vision, and forwardness.

Because there are many transient spaces people create to “enter” cities. And I’ve never felt this way about another city before. In Singapore, many of such entering, or crossing, occurs underground. The emphasis seems to be on functionality, and we’ll bury our dreams.

In our talk with Kelvin Ang of the Urban Redevelopment Authority in Singapore, I remember him describing his thoughts on Marina Bay Sands. Of the criticism that the nation’s iconic symbol of economic progress, materialism, and vice, of which houses a casino, luxury shopping etc…he noted that the piece of reclaimed land on which it stands, now offers us the opportunity to finally look back at the city.

For years, Singapore always looked towards the horizon, and built further, and higher. The intention is always internationally focused. “Let’s be the international hub for Everything!”

Could this new perspective, of which the everyday Singaporean can pay $25 to stand on the skybridge, and look towards the city in which they have come from – could this translate into a new vision for the nation? Or where Singapore’s transport infrastructure is rather seamlessly connecting the small city-state, does it really matter where you might be on this island? Especially since every estate is modelled similarly?

But having said that, I wonder if I am romanticising this act of entering the city. I wonder if I were to live here, and had to do the daily commute in a routine fashion, would I not walk functionally as well? And as well, is the City of Brisbane, a city that does in fact encourage vision and forwardness, considering its socio-political climate?

What is vision and forwardness for a city anyway?

Australian cities want to be like Melbourne. Melbourne wants to be New York. People say Singapore is trying to be Hong Kong. And Hong Kong etc…

And before the tangent progresses further away, perhaps I will go back to the point at the beginning.

Walking across thresholds has a very ritualistic nature that we may have neglected in the pace that comes with urbanisation.

Along with the beautiful weather up here in Brisbane, I reckon the city being nestled within the river’s flow, does have an effect on the lifestyles, and work culture. Work starting, and ending, is translated from the action of being able to significantly enter and leave the city. And home, is home. The sun sets at 6:30p.m. It’s time to unwind. And you sit on your veranda in your Queenslander in the cool night breeze.

The city goes to sleep. Tomorrow, we start again.

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