Here we are in 2020, which is 15 years on, and 13 years since we launched the cinema, and I think the core human drivers remain the same and we really love seeing ourselves in the people and the environments in which we spend time. We really love feeling proud of our city, which was really what the cinema was about; there we were in a building in the middle of Melbourne looking around and feeling like it was this sophisticated global thing.
CS: It was!
BB: And so, with our business I feel we’re appealing to the same ideas and the same kind of impulses that we were 15 years ago.
CS: Well, it’s interesting you say that because it does become apparent that there is a key thread that runs through all of your business activities and how they’ve developed over the years. It appears from the outside that there’s been quite a lot of meandering in terms of the route that you’ve taken, but in essence, you’ve always been about cities, both the spaces and how people use them. And the way in which you’ve looked at that journey, I think, has been fascinating. One of the other early things that Right Angle did was the Thousands Guides, which really helped a load of people to understand this new sense of wayfinding in a city by providing guides that identified that slightly old-school way of thinking about ‘this is what you should do’ and ‘this is what’s going on’, and it was very linear –
BB: – and quite paternalistic, embarrassingly so
CS: – and now you’re tracking the city and its movements and its activities in a slightly different way and for different people.
BB: Yeah; it’s all the same thing for us anyway. And we have a theory on cities, which is that if you don’t invest your time and your effort wisely, they will tend towards entropy, they will get worse. It’s like a sandcastle on a beach; if you leave it overnight, it will not be there the next day, and it’s the same with cities. And so with our business we’ve chosen quite intentionally and specifically to invest our energy into making them better, and the Thousands City Guides that you referenced, which were online guides that existed before social media, were really our way of telling people you have limited time, you have limited money, so let’s try and help you spend this wisely. Because there is a difference in the experience that you will have if you go to a particular local cafe versus Gloria Jean’s, but there’s also a difference in the value of your money because it’s generating local employment. And hopefully we’ll be getting more cafes, the likes of which really worked for Melbourne at that time on a cultural and commercial level. And that was how we started, by giving people polite advice on how to spend their time and money.
And now we’re doing that on a different scale with government and property developers; trying to help them create places where people will spend their time and money, but really to us, it seems the same thing. Yes, it’s been a meandering journey, but fundamentally, we’re trying to improve our cities by intervening in their growth and trying to stimulate the things that we think are sustainably good for cities and people.
CS: And how do you think the journey of the city has progressed over the past decade?
BB: At the moment in Australia, with Covid – which is really like tiddlywinks Covid, we’ve hardly had any Covid really, by global standards – there’s this crazy, inner-city, affluent-neighbourhood delusion that, because of the pandemic, everybody should move to regional Australia and that our cities will collapse. And I just think it’s such crazy thinking and talk because cities are incredibly seductive, intoxicating, essential places for us. We have built all of our infrastructure to get people there, all of our businesses are organised to be there, most of our exciting social experiences happen there, and the idea that we just rip ourselves away from it and relocate to Byron Bay, or whatever the cliché is, is crazy. What people who believe in that dream don’t understand is that the city is where opportunities are created. Anyone who lives in Byron Bay who’s well off has made their money in the city and just moved there incidentally later in life.
So I think cities are vitally important as the generators of progress in our society and they are our best way to get along with each other en masse and astonishing and interesting in that regard. And I think what’s happened over the past 10 years – to answer your question – is that the city has slowly changed from a place where we just happen to live and work to a place where we live and work and we really think.
And what I’ve seen is a positive shift away from thinking about cities purely in terms of ‘what are my rights to the city?’ to a state of mind where we’re thinking about our responsibilities for that city as well. I think this is one of the positive things that’s come out of Covid, that in a physiological, obvious way it is proven that we’re all related and we’re not alone. We have to be aware of the people around us and how we behave, and the implications of that, and we need to get on as a species in close quarters; we can’t be isolationist in our ideas and we can’t live far away from everyone else.
So I actually have a lot of faith that the city will endure and I’m really proud of our efforts as a society to move from it being ‘a place where I live’ to ‘a place that I understand and I’m proud of and I think of’. And I think the future for cities, like everything else in the world, is facing a very strange set of challenges at the moment, but they are just fantastic places that I think will always maintain a resonance and a relevance.
CS: And when are you running for Mayor?