The death and life of...

By Sean Hua

Great American Cities? Perhaps, but not quite. Try substituting the word 'ourselves' instead. Think a little closer to home: literally, figuratively and spiritually. Then you might come across Bunurong Memorial Park.

Image source: The Age
Situated in Melbourne southeast, the park has recently completed its redevelopment from a cemetery to be a 101 hectare centre that celebrates life, observes its ending, and commits it all to memory. The centre has a host of facilities atypical of a final resting place, within its grounds are various event spaces, places for reflection, children’s play areas, gardens, non-traditional grave spaces, and even a cafĂ©. Several weddings have already taken place here.

Jane Grover, chief executive of the Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, says:

“There is a change of narrative here – cemeteries are for the dead and memorial parks are for the living, and the families. They need to not be relics of the past… Generation X and Y are a death-free generation – they haven't had the Vietnam War, the Korean War, [or the world wars]… So how do we tap into them to say 'This is a really important place about how you navigate death?'”

As we celebrate the centenary of Jane Jacobs, Jane Grover is echoing her planning namesake in a way: the places we create should foster all manner of activities to create 'urban life' as we know it, rather than broad swathes of single uses that limit interactivity.

She also raises a deeper question about permanence, change, and morals. As an industry, we are tasked with thinking ahead for our communities, often beyond the end of our lifetimes. What we put on the ground effectively becomes indelible insofar as our own consciousness is concerned. As such, in a time of peace for a death-free generation, would it not be appropriate to create spaces that say, “This is a really important place about how you navigate life”?


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