The importance of cafes in local community city living.

Walking down to our local cafe the other day, I was a bit shocked when two strangers were standing behind the counter manning the coffee machine and working the grill. So shocked, that I stood there, mouth gaping a little, eyebrows frowning while I contemplated the scene in front of me. Hang on a second, this wasn’t right…who are you? Where’s Anthony? Which is what I blurted out. (Not the who are you, but where’s Anthony?) He sold up and we have taken over…*gasp!*…oh, I meekily said and muttered something about a latte and I would sit in the back. Sitting there mulling over what I had just been told, I phoned Mr Chocolate straight away and told him…*gasp!* He did what?!

Our favourite local cafe owner had sold and up and buggered off. Not a word, not a whisper and as I sat there trying to gather some thoughts, I was gutted. Mr Chocolate was gutted…The Monkeys would be gutted. Why? Not because I was a daily cafe frequenter and should have put up a little plaque in my honour on a chair, but because we genuinely loved the guy. He made the cafe.

Simple, tasty food, small setting. People came back because Anthony made you smile, he remembered your name. He knew what you drank. He was my foodie sounding board. The Monkeys adored him and would always run over and say hello regardless of whether we were buying anything. For 3 years this was our local. This was a place where I could study undisturbed for an hour sitting on one coffee, a place where my grandparents were introduced, Mr Chocolate and I had discussed any home issues at a back table, (when The Monkeys were being entertained elsewhere) milkshakes had been slopped by inexperienced child hands, biscuits handed out generously. It was OUR cafe and Anthony an important part of that sweet blend. THE important part of it.

But not any more. Two strangers stood before me, dishing out coffees and explaining the changes they had made to people coming and asking where Anthony was.

This got me thinking….How important are cafes within our community. For inner city living, the cafe culture is alive and strong. Weekends are full of streetside cafes, takeaway coffees a must and many a meal taken up in cafe. These cafes serve as meeting places, appealing to the family for a special treat out, friends meeting up, and singles seeking some alone time. With the absence of backyards for many inner city living people, this is a way of life. For many, if you are living in a small household like a flat in the city, you can be quite restricted with space. As our urban population increases, so will that high density living and lack of space.

If you want to go some where else, the options aren’t huge. The park, a bar, the beach or a cafe. I do my fair share of parks and beach, bars don’t appeal, so for a little me time now and again that hour in a cafe is gold. Pure gold.

There is something really inviting about going somewhere, where you are greeted warmly by name. Your coffee is being made without having said a word, and the conversation is easy. It’s hard to find that. It’s almost like an extension of your home. For many of my friends who live in the area and all living in 2 bedroom apartments with kids, these cafes are utilised frequently. Whether it be a place to take small children to on a rainy day for a babycino, a meeting spot with friend or a place for some quiet contemplation without kids. Cafes in inner city living are used, utilised and loved. Having a warm friendly face to greet you as you come in makes the experience. That cafe space for me has been on many an occasion, a life saver.

So now as we go past our old cafe I have to deal with from Monkey Boy, Mama it makes me feel so sad that Anthony is gone. I want to talk about him all the time, it makes me feel so sad…

From Little Monkey, ANThatttiii…ANThatttiii!! With small arms outstretched towards his cafe.

I know what you mean boys, I feel the same way.

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Little old man with big ideas

There used to be a little old man that lived at the top of my street. His front of house filled with home grown edibles. Every inch of space was filled with some sort of recyled object that in turn had been filled with soil and had something growing in it. Australia Post mail tubs housed capsicum plants lining his brick wall. His footpath grass not present but instead a lemon tree surrounded by a seasonal selection of leafy greens. Every space possible was used for something to grow in. Recycled rusty tin drums were home to chillis and a worn out old metal box his compost. Every time we would past he would be either tending his loved plants, basking in the sun with his head tilted on his verandah (the tiny space that was still free for 1 chair) or waiting by the footpath for someone to come past, so that he could chat to them.

A greek immigrant he had been in the country for 60 years he proudly told me one day. 94 years old, not a speck over 5 foot and he still loved to garden. With his clothing that didn’t look like it had had a wash for quite some time, gnarled old fingers that hadn’t been washed for quite some time as well and dentures that kept popping out of his mouth. He wasn’t the usual kind of neighbour that a lot of people had.

He liked to stop me, and offer water cress freshly plucked from the side of the footpath, and then happily munch on it, until his mouth gave up with trying to masticate the trying greenery with those popping dentures, then he would spit it out enthusiastically towards the general direction of his compost.

Now why am I telling you stories of an eccentric little old man? Because that little old man had big ideas. Simple ideas, that have pestered me ever since he voiced them to me. Why (as he pointed to the multi level apartments located near him) do they not have a communal garden in there? Why do they not have a simple lemon tree? Everyone could be using all the things that they grow within their small shared space. Even a little lemon tree makes a difference. We eat everything I grow. So simple…

Why indeed my little old man… Living in a big city, I see building happening all around me all the time. Quaint historic houses making way for multi story apartment blocks. Beautiful 3 bedroom houses with one bathroom, making way for 2/3 bedroom, 3 bathroom multiple level apartments. I understand the need for more accommodation in big cities, what I don’t understand is why these changes can’t be made more sustainable. Sure they don’t have to be using any recycled object within its path to be made into a growing pot. But surely these newly built places could accommodate a food growing area, that can be easily watered by nearby water tank, and then utilised by the people living there.

But who will look after it, we don’t have time?… Usually these big blocks, (or even smaller blocks of only 4) will have a body corporate or an outside designated company that organises all maintenance of the outside areas. This garden area could easily be maintained by the same people surely? Or a rotating roster of people within the complex that would be more than willing to look after the gardens. So many people would like to dig their fingers into dirt and don’t get the opportunities due to city living constraints.

But there isn’t room on the ground for these garden areas? We need carparking!… It doesn’t need to be on the ground, there is a perfectly good rooftops with ample sunlight just begging  for a little urban edible gardening. Roof top gardens can be easily built on flat roofs or a low pitch roof, and have many added benefits besides providing food to tennants.

Erd House (below) is located in Switzerland, not really a city living dwelling but still magnificent, and I wanted to sneak it in.

erd house by Swiss architect Peter Vetsch

In the pipelines there is also Sydney City Farm. Still waiting approval at this stage….

Simple things like these roof top gardens, or shared edible gardening spaces within apartment living could have such a dramatic and positive influence on our environment and city living peoples lives. So many countries and people have embraced this way of living around the world. It would be so wonderful though, to be able to walk around my neighbourhood and see more examples of this happening…

A good place to start if you are interested in more information is here.