When the familiar disappears

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Early morning mist, Collins Park Greenhithe. Image: Su Leslie 2019

I love the way that morning mist renders even the most familiar landscape a little bit unknown and mysterious.

I’ve lived in the same place for 19 years, and although much has changed in that time, physical alterations have been gradual, each settling more or less gently into the neighbourhood.

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Still a pleasant place to sit. War Memorial Park Greenhithe, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Until recently.

In the last year or so, a large number of modest houses have been demolished to be make way for McMansions. In the latest case, there was sufficient land around the old house to be subdivided into seven lots, each priced at just over a million dollars.

That’s right. For a NZ$1,050,000 (1) you can own 600m2 of bare suburban land upon which to build your dream home. As long as your dream complies with the (usually quite restrictive) building covenants on such developments.

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Scraped bare. Gone is the modest house, garden and small orchard. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Installing services for seven new houses that will be built on this site. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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On the left, an old-school renovation. On the right, bin for construction waste for a complete re-build; the previous house having been demolished. Image: Su Leslie 2019

I hardly know where to start with my list of concerns about this trend. The increasing homogenization of an already elite neighbourhood? The massive environmental footprints of the new houses? The obscenity of building mansions when there are families only a few miles away living in their cars?

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Old Greenhithe. How long before the area’s original cottages (with environmentally friendly rainwater tanks) are just a distant memory? Image: Su Leslie 2019

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No room for eccentricity. Quirky and unique letterboxes aren’t allowed in covenanted developments. Image: Su Leslie 2019

When I noticed this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge theme was “around the neigbourhood”, I set out for a walk intending to capture some of the beauty and charm of the place where I live.

What worries me is that so much of that charm is being destroyed, and what’s left will only be accessible to the wealthy few.

(1) $1,050,000 = around US$719,000, approx £541,500, just over 1,000,000 Australian dollars, or €635,000.


homecoming devonport ferry

A sight that always invokes a sense of home: the ferry docked at Devonport Wharf. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Home is a slippery concept for me. Born in Scotland, raised in New Zealand. Seven schools in 11 years; twenty houses in my first thirty years. A slightly nomadic decade in the UK, and now the longest period I’ve ever stayed put, in my current home.

But it doesn’t feel right anymore. An empty nest for sure, but also one in a neighbourhood that has lost it’s slightly grungy, semi-rural charm. A neighbourhood where the small, modest houses in which generations of Kiwi families raised their kids are being demolished and replaced with sprawling McMansions.

I don’t know where my next home will be, though I hope to figure it out fairly soon! I do know that there are some sights in the world that will always invoke home, and one is a ferry docked at Devonport Wharf.

Devonport was my family’s first home as new migrants to New Zealand, and going to “town” on the ferry was a huge adventure for us (especially as my mother is totally phobic about boats and water). The ferry these days is newer, faster and not steam-powered, but when T and I recreated the trip recently, I realised that the feeling remains the same.

Posted to the Ragtag Daily Prompt | homecoming


Seven day black and white challenge: day 2

"If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed." -- Willam H. McRaven. Close up b&w shot of scatter pillows on a bed. Shot from the side, with a curtained window visible. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” — Willam H. McRaven. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

“Seven days. Seven black and white photos of your life. No people. No explanation. Challenge someone new each day.”

I’d like to invite Philip at Cambodian Beginnings to join in (no pressure naturally, but you know that).

Philip’s images of everyday life in Cambodia are fascinating and sometimes very moving.

At play with the meaning of things

Still life with hibiscus -- or afternoon tea with a good book. Close-up shot of tea cup, plate with biscuits, book and single hibiscus.  Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed and Stackables.

Still life with hibiscus — or afternoon tea with a good book. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed and Stackables.

The Making of Home, by Judith Flanders (pictured above) is my go-to book at the moment; something to be savoured and digested carefully in small, thoughtful bites.

It’s a social historical account of how the mythology of “home” has been constructed over the last few centuries, and of how that has changed everything from the placement of furniture to the value of women’s work. To quote the Financial Times’ review:

In The Making of Home, Judith Flanders has many interesting, and sometimes startling, things to say about what domesticity means to us, how that meaning has changed – and how it has endured. As she points out, nostalgia is the presiding spirit in the age of consumerism and has been so since the 18th century. Suburban homes across the developed world represent a longing for an imaginary pre-industrial age. These dreams are of course fantasies: until very recently, most homes were hovels carrying no deeper meaning for their inhabitants than shelter and survival. Few people, even two centuries ago, had more than one chair, let alone chairs sufficient for the contented family meal at the simple cottage table that is so integral to the northern European ideal. — Financial Times, October 11, 2014

In the Introduction, Flanders sets out to show how our notions of what “home” means are shaped by cultural representations. She examines Dutch 17th century paintings of domestic scenes — which have come to be regarded as “the very epitome of homeness” — yet bear little resemblance to actual Dutch houses of the time. This point is reinforced in a recent BBC Culture article “Why Vermeer’s paintings are less real than we think.”

These days, I measure the quality of a book partly by how many creative ideas it inspires in me. The Making of Home is scoring highly here; beginning with the little still life above. Simple capture of a peaceful moment? Or highly constructed ironic comment on hegemonic representations of domesticity?

This digression into the sociology of home was written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally.

Six word Saturday: moving on?

Photo: Su Leslie 2010

After 14 years, is it time to put the house on the market? Photo: Su Leslie 2010

Summer: a good time to sell

This post was written as part of Six Word Saturday. Here are some others I’ve enjoyed:

Six word Saturday