Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Development! 2: Commute (February 2007)

For twelve months during my Master's degree, I commuted from Hamilton to North York, in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). I took the #47 Go bus which travels along the "express" highway, 407. During the same period I also bought my first digital camera, and the many hours I spent rolling along through this landscape were just as often employed in photographing as they were in chewing through my course readings in linguistics.

The day I took these pictures, it looks like I took the 11AM bus from the Hamilton GO Station scheduled to arrive at York around 12:45PM, probably for a class at 1:30PM.

11:36AM: Carpool lot, Burlington, near Highway 407 & Dundas.

The pictures I took during this time were grouped in my mind with another set of images taken several years earlier, which I'd called "Development!"--they were taken in housing developments around the Hamilton/Burlington/Oakville area. I'm both fascinated and repulsed by what I call "cookie-cutter housing"; these kinds of buildings were the impetus for the original "Development!" project. The contemporary "row-houses" seen in the picture above lack all the charm of their distant ancestors in the city of London, England (for example). Somehow I doubt that in 100 years they'll have become any more appealing; in fact given the low quality of construction, they probably won't even be standing.

11:37AM: Carpool lot, Burlington.

This lot is the first of three we at which the bus stops. The second one is at Highway 407 and Bronte Road, and the last one is by 407 and Trafalgar Road in Oakville. I always found these lots very isolated, oddly located (for the convenience of the highway and the bus, not of travellers) and quite lonely-looking. I often saw people waiting late at night in the cold, and thought I'd prefer not to be in that situation.

11:54AM: Heading east, Highway 403, bound for Square One in Mississauga.

This is a detour that makes up for about 20 minutes of the bus route. And Square One is a strange outpost, like an groundlocked spaceport in a bad sci-fi movie, a cluster of faux-futuristic towers housing goodness knows what--perhaps the ubiquitous superficially lavish condos or office space well under the Toronto Downtown price--dotted around the large mall that doubles as a transit terminal.

12:11PM: Towards Bramalea.

My impressions at the time: "Canada—in some ways only this part of it, but to me, every part of it—is an amplified landscape: everything built bigger, split apart, fragmented and not made for human feet to traverse—now I know that part is Southern Ontario specifically, this GTA area as the real example. Southern Ontario’s sprawl. Highways, office towers, endless rows of identical houses separated by grassy spaces that hold massive pylons. It all marches off towards the horizon. And it all repeats, with the systematicity of technological reproduction."

12:12PM: I think this is the turning onto Dixie Road at the 407.

That sense of "amplification" that I wrote about at the time, during the trips I took, came from the impression of space taken for granted, assumed to continue without obstacle. It makes me think now of the differences between cities built on islands and peninsulas, and those like Toronto, Los Angeles, Atlanta, even London--that just keep expanding like little universes.

12:13PM: Another shot from the same position. Something dusty blue yet crisp about the light on super-cold days like this one, which was probably why I was taking so many pictures.

I've written here before about the contrast between the physical spaces of habitation in which I've spent my life--how when it was new to me, Canada was a simple hugeness, an incomprehensibly exaggerated version of what I had known previously. Even now, that early dim formation stays with me as a kind of rough schema that's been much worked-over and complicated over time, like an evolving collage of experiences and memories. The cities and highways are only a small part of that, but the impression is one of weird extremes of quirkiness and sameness.

12:23PM: Heading away from the stop at Bramalea, the last stop before York.

Sometimes on this bus ride, which I now make once or twice a week, I think about the space taken up by highways and roads and the way that space is in some sense nullified by its purpose, as space to be crossed only--or to be used for traversing space itself--not to be dwelt on or dallied in. There's no attempt to integrate these roads into a living space. In fact it's more the opposite--they are designed to segregate and to aid segregation (something I mentioned here as well), pushed out as far as possible from the places where people make their homes, ironically used as conduits for the passage to sub-/ex-urban retreat.

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