A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[URBAN NOTE] “How Public Transit Fosters Community”

Tricia Wood’s Torontoist article describes the social and cultural effects of public transit, how it creates a public space where Torontonians can meet and mix.

Several years ago, I taught briefly at an American university. It was one of those Very Nice Universities, populated mostly by lovely, bright students from private schools. They were mostly white and mostly from suburban, upper-middle-class families. In one course I had a student who, in an assignment on his family’s geography, told me a story of what he felt was an extraordinary coincidence: although he was from the northeast, he ran into a classmate on a summer holiday in a parking lot at the Grand Canyon. “What are the odds?” he asked.

Actually, they’re pretty good. Stay with me for a moment—this is relevant.

When we move through and across cities, provinces, and countries, our sense of the freedom of our movement is that we can go anywhere. There are few overt restrictions on the movement of Canadians, both within Canada and around the world.

That sense of “I can go wherever I want” can mask how routine and even determined our movements are. We don’t go anywhere and everywhere. Our movements are not random. We all have our own geographies, personal maps of the places that are meaningful for us.

If I asked you to draw a map of “your Toronto,” it would probably have your home in the middle, surrounded by key place markers of your daily life: work or school, family and friends, your regular places of leisure or other activities.

These anchor points reflect who we are. They also continue to shape us. Our geographies bring us into regular contact with people who have things in common with us. We tend to be in places where we’re with people who think the same, look the same, believe the same, think similarly, or like to do the same things. Not uniformly, but similarly.

None of this is negative; it is important to find and build communities within big cities. One of the key ways we do this is through places where we can connect along these lines.

And importantly, a lot of these encounters and gatherings with familiar people are not planned. We run into each other in the same places, because we have things in common that drive our interest or inclination to wind up in these spaces. It could be because we have similar incomes or similar interests in sports.


Written by Randy McDonald

December 22, 2016 at 7:30 pm

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