Cool places, creative places? Community perceptions of cultural vitality in the suburbs
This article stems from a project examining cultural assets in Wollongong - a medium-sized Australian city with a decentralized and linear suburban pattern that challenges orthodox binaries of inner-city bohemia/outer-suburban domesticity. In Wollongong we documented community perceptions of cultural assets across this unusual setting, through a simple public research method. At the city's largest annual festival we recruited the general public to nominate the city's most 'cool' and 'creative' places, by drawing on a map of Wollongong and telling their stories. Hand-drawn maps from 205 participants were combined in a Geographical Information System and 50 hours of stories transcribed for qualitative analysis. Over 2300 places were identified. Among them were some surprising results: although places known for the arts and bohemian creative industries figured prominently, these were not only in the inner-city but in beachside suburbs with unique cultural histories. Also, a range of affective engagements with place, including unconventional forms of creativity, were described in industrial and blue-collar suburbs. Network topology analysis by place of residence also revealed the extent of localism, as well as specializations and aggrandizements among suburbs. Our conclusions are threefold: first, that 'creativity' is relationally situated and linked across all parts of the city; second, that decentralized forms of small-scale cultural infrastructure provision are vital for vernacular cultural pursuits; and, third, that 'creativity' is a polysemic and contested category - only ever partially revealing the contours of cultural vitality in the suburbs.