Intersections Are Contests
Yesterday, we reviewed some of our favourite Toronto intersections. We were also asked to reflect upon our experiences of these spaces. The words we chose reflected the notions we also discussed last week, words such as “diversity” and “accessibility.”
Yonge and Dundas provides, in some sense, both diversity and accessibility.
Try and visualize with me. You have emerged from the depths of the TTC into a blinding, deafening, muting swarm of people and things. Electronic billboards many times larger than your body. More massive are the buildings which form a cage of concrete, with only the distant sky above. Street performers make tremendous noise and movement (singing, shaking, gyrating, flailing their limbs, calling out) – all of these sights and all of these sounds. And the smell of street food, of gasoline, and the smell of the people that surround you on all sides, the smell of different places brought by some of these people. In the confusion of all these sights, sounds and smells, people brush past you, invading the “personal space” so important to many of us. All these sources of stimulus and you haven’t stepped 10 paces outside the subway. This is an example of just some of the information you are receiving in a busy Toronto intersection like Yonge and Dundas, and more precisely Yonge and Dundas square which is a meeting place for many but a resting place for few.
You, the person reading this post, have probably decided that what I have been describing as diversity is shallow relative to other examples of urban diversity. This is a description merely of a diversity of things to be purchased at Yonge and Dundas. None of my examples were of things visitors could sell themselves in the market. None of my examples were of those objects or experiences existing outside of the market.
|Yonge and Dundas (click the image to enlarge)|
Screen Capture from Google Maps
|Baldwin and Augusta (click the image to enlarge)|
Screen Capture from Google Maps
I have used the word must to describe a custom which you may think is voluntary. Why would I make an argument like this? This is a conditional, must-not usage. You must not break the law. You must not disobey your authority figures. You must not create dangerous situations. Each of these must-nots is predicated on the idea that you respect the customs of your environment, and if you contest the customs at any Toronto intersection you should be prepared to endure societal disgrace. The faces of societal disgrace include: stares, jeers, whispers, pointing, unintended injury, intended violence, malice, confusion and so on. These society-level behaviours exist wherever you find people, but the specific expectations and the degrees of severity you find are highly variable.
A consequence of participating in quieter intersections is an increase in what other people will expect from you and what you can expect from them in return (an exchanging of expectation). A consequence of participating in a noisier intersection is a decrease in expectation and an increase in the volume of information which you are exposed to.
When you and I decide to respect or contest the customs which surround us we are exercising our agencies. Depending on where these customs exist, we may need to work harder to express this agency. If we do not express our agencies we silence ourselves. If we remain silent we allow others to speak for us.
I hope that some of you will be willing to respond to me but I can appreciate that the internet can be both an extremely noisy and an extremely silent environment. I'm hoping for reasonable criticisms (I really wanted this first post to be in even less detail so I fully expect disagreement and corrections) and reasonable suggestions of how I could expand my connection between information and cities. I would also really appreciate any other examples of intersections (or of any additional social spaces) where these ideas could be brought to bare.