Postcode 3000

The Quiet Life
A year since moving into Melbourne's CBD I take stock of creating a peaceful life in a very noisy city. Can a confirmed introvert really enjoy living with 4 million other Aussies?

My whole life I’ve wanted to move into the city, but for one reason or another it was impossible or impractical. Finding myself unencumbered with so much as a cat, I seized my opportunity and began a new life. How does someone who loves peace and quiet survive smack bang in the middle of the concrete jungle?

It is true that I don’t like crowds but that doesn’t mean I don’t like people. I just don’t manage well when *all* the people are in one place and I can’t escape. People are wonderful, in small doses. Living in the CBD provides some unique opportunities to engage with people you care about but struggle to socialise with.

Hub and Spoken

Melbourne’s CBD is the hub of the city. All transport feeds into the city, so living at the centre of the hub makes it easy to get out and access people who live on the spokes. For many of my friends it’s an appealing option to come visit in the city because they can mix a brunch stop with other activities. Finding overlaps in my friends schedules for a casual catchup has never been easier.

One of the great treasures of living in the city is the easy access to some peaceful gems just outside the CBD. It’s a short walk to Parkville or South Melbourne for example, where favourite haunts like Middle Fish or Dead Man Espresso offer ideal meeting places. Not all my friends are punctual, so having a lovely cafe that is relaxed about you relaxing over a coffee while waiting for a friend is a bonus. I catch up on some reading or writing while looking forward to some good company.

There are good places to meet around the city too of course, like Journal for a coffee catch up or Chin Chin for a Sunday gathering with friends.

The key element here is that when you live in the city, you don’t have to travel to the city. The emphasis is “life without a car”, and that is life changing. I first gave up owning a car about 8 years ago, and found that I had spent my whole life making excuses for needing one. Now that I live in an apartment block with no parking, I am forced to go without the car. And loving it.

I walk everywhere, or take the tram if feeling lazy. I never worry about parking stress or road rage. I don’t waste an hour or two each day fighting traffic and making myself cranky.

Street Life

There are some definite downsides to life in the city, and smokers are top of my list. Melbourne is blessed with a lovely sea breeze in the afternoons that sweeps through the lanes and cools down the summer heat. It seems all that fresh air is compelling for office workers too, who like to stand on the pavement and puff away on cigarettes during their afternoon tea break.

Walking a single city block can be more hazardous to your health than working in a coal mine. These are typically not your most considerate members of society, puffing clouds of toxic smoke around to satisfy their dependant cravings. Tough luck for anyone else within a 20m radius who wanted to breath oxygen.

The pavement is hard work even without the cancer sticks. Walk-Rage is the new black in Melbourne, with aimless Chinese tourists clogging up one half of the footpath and smartphone addicts blocking the other half. Men in suits like to walk three abreast down the pavement too, because you know they’re very important and everybody else can just step aside.

Swanston St is the home of cray cray. This is where the out of town visitors gather for attention seeking behaviour. Fast food, cheap carbs and drug addled attention spans dominate the pavement between Flinders St and The State Library. It’s a spectacle day and night and I try to avoid walking this section whenever possible.

High Rised

The volume of residential apartment space in Melbourne is ever expanding, with even more new towers going up within a short walk of the Queen Victoria Market. They look very fancy and many even have parking spaces for car owners. I live in an older 1950s building that was converted from offices to apartments in the 80s, so there are no parking spots and no air conditioning and the elevator is broken most of the time. And it’s great.

I’m not high enough off the street level to avoid the noise of car horns at 2pm, or relationship break ups at 2am. The windows were designed when Edison was still a boy and they do little to keep out the noise, dust or the weather. Winter is fine because you need very little heating to keep a small apartment toasty. Summer is more of a challenge without air conditioning, and although the afternoon sea breeze is delightful and effective there are always a week or two during summer when it fails to cool down at night and sleep becomes elusive.

Anyone who is a light sleeper will go insane living in the CBD. I generally do not have that problem, I even sleep through my own snoring. You get used to being awoken through the night, and you just drift back to sleep again most of the time.

For the most part these apartments are very private, very peaceful and offer a cave-like quality that I find appealing. I like hiding away from the world, while being able to step out and get salted-fish fried rice if I want it.

Small Gifts

Just as giving up owning a car was a lifestyle bonus, giving up owning lots of other things is equally liberating. When you own a large home you end up filling it. When you own a small apartment you also end up filling it, but it takes much less to do so. Downsizing my life is a really big part of why the CBD lifestyle makes me happy. Even my fridge is small, just a bar fridge, because I can walk to the Queen Victoria Market when I want fresh food, or visit the South Melbourne Market if I want a bigger walk and get fresh food.

A lifestyle that emphasises “less” is exactly what I needed in my life. I feel better about my footprint on the environment and literally have more money in my pocket to put towards life experiences. Owning less stuff makes me happier and healthier it turns out.

Running a business from my apartment is not always as easy as when I had my own studio. I am lucky to have a spare walk-in closet, nicknamed “the hazard room”, where my boring things can be kept out of sight and out of mind. Containing all my work related affairs and “loose ends” behind closed doors allows me to enjoy the peaceful character of my apartment cave.

A Great City

What makes Melbourne one of the truly great cities of the world is the range of niches it offers. You can enjoy Melbourne for the fine dining, the cheap eats, the busy bars, the art and culture, the hidden cafes, the open rooftops, and so on. It caters to a wide variety of needs.

One of my favourite pleasures in the city is to walk to Hot Star Large Fried Chicken and order a large fried chicken. There’s usually some excellent buskers on the street after dark, and the blend of Asian students and Melbourne mayhem makes me feel right at home.

Finding your niche in Melbourne does take a bit of effort, especially for those who seek quiet contemplation instead of cocktail oblivion. Inner city Melbourne does work for this quiet minded soul, so maybe it can work for you too.

This page was last updated on January 14, 2016


What Say You?

  1. Natalie
    Aug 11, 2016

    Gorgeous Ewen!

    Reply
    • ewen
      Aug 11, 2016

      awwwww thanks nat 🙂

      Reply
  2. Adi Kerr
    May 09, 2017

    Ahh the quiet life. Nice read Ewan. It reminds me of one my favourite things to do as a Melbournian. I love to hang with my kids on the occasional Saturday combing the streets of the city. Generally with no purpose or nowhere to be but to rather let my kids soak up the atmosphere. I find (as with puppies) people tend to talk to you more when you have kids. As a father what is important to me is to for us to meet people we’ ve never met before. Sending out the message ‘Stranger danger’ to kids doesn’t cut it with me. Young people need to be equipped with the right Social skills to understand for themselves. Our favourite things to do in the CBD are, sitting in doorways watching passers by, sushi train in Emporium and geocaching.
    Great to share Ewan

    Reply
    • ewen
      May 10, 2017

      Thanks for sharing that Adi. I thinks it’s truly wonderful that your kids see the CBD as a place they can explore and engage with a wider section of the community. And yes, as an adult male it’s very hard to strike up a conversation with strangers without being creepy! Even harder if you’re holding a camera I can tell you. Kids and dogs for the win 🙂

      Reply