Published in 1968 it is full of glorious photos of the Victorian era architecture of the inner suburbs, with Carlton featuring strongly.
So I was taken aback when I read the text accompanying the photos. The authors described the inner suburbs as follows,
In districts eventually destined for rebuilding the great majority of present-day residents still live in time-expired houses made habitable and, indeed, often presentable by renovation.
The argument that inner suburban areas must be rebuilt to provide residential accommodation for a much greater proportion of the population is patently true. The metropolitan sprawl cannot go on much longer ...
Central Melbourne - the city of the first hundred years is vanishing. It had much that was quaint and charming, but it was uneconomic and therefore an anachronism. Sentiment may yet preserve some of its buildings as curiosities, but they will never again much influence its atmosphere.
Such a dry economic rationalism! The love of place and heritage and gracious architecture is recognised only as sentimentality. The future belongs, it is claimed, to the more impersonal, objective requirements of scientific planning.
And initially history seemed to prove the authors right. A small part of Carlton was, indeed, demolished and replaced with modern, high-rise Housing Commission towers.
But "sentiment" was not so easily vanquished. Today, the Housing Commission area is considered a blot on the landscape, and the old Victorian terraces of the inner suburbs have soared in value. There are still many sections of the inner suburbs where the historic atmosphere has been largely preserved.
Ironically, it is the extraordinarily dry and technocratic views of the authors which now seem quaintly anachronistic rather than the Victorian terraces.
It's good to reflect that something relating more to the soul has proved stronger than an empty rationalism. I have often walked such inner suburban streets and felt connected to the historic character, and felt pride in what my own ancestors created, and enjoyed the pre-modern architectural design, with its emphasis on elegance and charm.
It seems I was not alone in valuing such things.