Liveability, in all its definitions, is a way to take stock of a city: what works, and what doesn’t, and how those elements compare to other cities. However, converting emotions into metrics is a difficult task, and emotions and images are sometimes missing from the cold ‘qual + quant’ approach of liveability indexes. One idea that seems to get closer to ‘that unmistakeable vibe’ of cities is that of missability ­– those things that we dream of when we’re elsewhere, that we rediscover rapturously when we return. Author Sophie Cunningham is a long-time Melbourne resident whose work about place we admire, so we asked her to explore the idea of missability between Melbourne and New York ­– where she lived in 2014–2015. She responded with this evocative list poem, accompanied by delightful watercolour illustrations that she completed during a visit to NY in 2016. — Lily Keil

Things I miss about New York

  1. Art galleries and museums so large you could go for a day and come out a year later
  2. Long blue twilights on warm summer nights
  3. Autumn sunsets
  4. Heavy grey skies
  5. Bagels
  6. Pizza by the slice (though I miss Roberta’s Pizza even more)
  7. Cheap, strong cocktails
  8. The range of bitter greens available at the Park Slope Food Co-op, and the intensity of seasonal shopping: ramps, broccoli rabe, crab, Concorde grapes
  9. The PA announcements at the Park Slope Food Co-op (‘There is NO organic watermelon from California. Repeat: NO ORGANIC WATERMELON FROM CALLIFORNIA.’)
  10. Gossip about celebrities who do, or fail to do, volunteer work at the Park Slope Food Co-op
  11. Jaya Yoga Centre
  12. Seasons (the snow, the blossom, the long sticky nights and dramatic summer storms, the autumn leaves)
  13. Coney Beach on 4 July, Coney beach in the snow, the cats living under the board walk at Coney Beach
  14. Crossing the East River above ground while riding the Q
  15. Getting on the subway in Brooklyn and getting off an hour or so later, in the Bronx, or Flushing, or Jackson Heights, or Inwood, and feeling as if you’ve left America far behind, are now in Italy, or China, or India, or the Dominican Republic
  16. Walking for hours along the avenues: Flatbush, Bedford, Broadway
  17. BAMcinématek and the endless array of film retrospectives
  18. Dog runs in the parks: Prospect Park, Central Park, Inwood Park
  19. Watching squirrels play out the kitchen window
  20. The Highline on the days it isn’t crazy crowded
  21. The New York Times
  22. Red-tailed hawks making the city their own
  23. Horseshoe crabs on the beaches of Brooklyn
  24. People living their life, out loud, on the streets
  25. People-watching on the subway

Things I don’t miss at all

  1. Halloween pumpkins being left on the doorstep all year round
  2. Bitter cold and shovelling ice
  3. Fighting with the volunteer coordinators at the Park Slope Food Co-op
  4. Talking myself up in an attempt to sound interesting when I meet new (and interesting) New Yorkers
  5. Williamsburg
  6. God
  7. Patriotism
  8. Baseball
  9. Police shootings
  10. Standing in line for things
  11. Times Square
  12. Hype
  13. Crappy public swimming pools that are closed most of the year (except for the pool with the Keith Haring murals)
  14. Aggro beach guards/pool guards/security guards
  15. The Highline when it’s crazy crowded
  16. Brunch
Coney Island, New York
Washington Square, New York

Things I missed about Melbourne

  1. Lemon-scented gums and Moreton Bay figs
  2. Carlton Gardens, Royal Park, the Botanic Gardens
  3. Magpies warbling, cockatoos screeching
  4. Walking around the streets late at night and buying a gelato in Spring Street
  5. Walking past the statue of Pastor Sir Douglas and Lady Gladys Nicholls and putting a flower in Lady Gladys’s hand
  6. Swimmable beaches close to town where you don’t get yelled at for not swimming between the flags
  7. Autumn
  8. That endless summer holiday feeling which you can vibe off even when you’re working
  9. Easter
  10. Possums
  11. Victoria Market
  12. ABC radio
  13. Fitzroy, my family, my cats, my friends
  14. Good Indian food, good Lebanese food, good Thai food
  15. Australian Art

Things I didn’t miss at all

  1. The newspapers
  2. Australian politics
  3. Mosquitos
  4. Blow flies
  5. Brunch
Royal Park Wetlands, Melbourne

Author

Sophie Cunningham is a former publisher and editor, the author of two novels, Geography (2004) and Bird (2008) and two books of non-fiction, Melbourne (2011) and Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy (2014) which was shortlisted for several major literary prizes. She is a former editor of Meanjin, and was, from 2011 to 2014 Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council. She is a founding and current board member of The Stella Prize an Australian prize for women writers. Her essay, ‘Staying With the Trouble’ was the winner of the 2015 Calibre Prize and her essay ‘Biyala Stories’ has just won the 2017 Nature Conservancy Nature Writing Prize. She is currently completing her third novel, ‘This Devastating Fever’ and a book of linked essays, ‘Diary from the End Times’. She is an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University in the School Media and Communication in the College of Design and Social Context.

Images: All watercolours by Sophie Cunningham