Suburban Encounters and Social Spaces Essay

Suburban Encounters

I live in Abbotsford, BC, which is considered part of the Fraser Valley and outside of the GVRD. Abbotsford identifies itself as The City within the Country, which is announced on the Welcome to Abbotsford sign as you cross the border from one district to the other.

Specifically, I live in a townhouse complex, on the south / east corner of Townline Road and Upper Maclure, which is a 10 minute car ride west of the ‘urban’ centre of Abbotsford. My neighborhood is primarily a residential area of detached homes and townhouse complexes bordering the north side of the Trans Canada Highway, with some commercial areas close by.

My Neighborhood

There are several parks, a high school, a recreational complex, a small retail complex and a larger retail complex, all within a 20 minute walk from where I live. In my neighborhood, there are not many cul-de-sacs, which suggests that walking is encouraged. You can read about why cul-de-sacs are bad for your health here:

From the perspective of an outsider, my neighborhood doesn’t seem all that diverse from other areas of Abbotsford. Not until you realize that the area I live in is a mix of ethnic groups, with Indo Canadians making up the majority of the population. This is in contrast to neighborhoods east of where I live (and Abbotsford’s urban centre). As you travel east you would notice that the ethnic group most encountered would be of European decent.

I find this an important distinction because of the social life on the streets. What I’ve noticed is that during my morning, early afternoon, and evening strolls, I encounter many retired Indo Canadians out for a stroll and men gathered around park benches, on warmer days. These encounters make visible the rhythms of family life in my neighborhood and reveals the nature of family arrangements. It’s not uncommon to see grandparents living in the same home with their adult children, and grandchildren.

Navigating Space and Barriers

For this blog post, I decided to go for an investigative ‘stroll’ at night, before reading Theory of Derive or Space and Culture; Rhythms of Walking. This allowed me to become aware of my actions and surroundings, without being influenced by the ideas of Jo Vergunst and translations of Ken Knabb.

I chose my usual evening route up Townline Rd to Ridgeview Dr, but instead of staying on Ridgeview Dr, which I usually do when it’s dark, I chose to cut across Ridgeview Park. At night, the park is surrounded by lights from neighboring homes, but void of any lit pathways.

My sense of depth perception is challenged at night and I’m not sure if I would have decided to cut across the park at any other time, not because it’s dangerous, but because it’s not easy for me to see my way through. So the night, in this situation, becomes a barrier.

I find it interesting that even though I didn’t want the readings from our class to influence me, they have, because I decided to go through the park to encounter a different experience, to engage in a sense of playfulness. My sense of awareness and willingness to experiment beyond my usual itinerary was heightened during my first stroll.

Over a two week period, I went on three encounters. The first was in the evening, without a camera. The second was in the evening, with a camera, and the third time was during the day, with a camera. As mentioned, the first stroll I deviated from the norm and took a chance on a new experience.

For the second stroll I chose a different time to venture out. It was around 6pm, rather than my usual 8pm walk. What I encountered at 6pm that was different from 8pm was that there were more people out for the evening and the majority were woman. My second observation of that evening was my camera became a prop (a barrier?) which interrupted my usual rhythm, because I would stop to observe and record my journey.

The third encounter walking in my neighbourhood was during the day, again with my camera. I veered off my usual route because I had two agendas. The first was to take pictures of Ridgeview Park’s open space, which I encountered on my first night, and the second objective was to document an area where men gather on park benches.

The Life of Benches in Rockhill and Nadeau Park

It’s not uncommon for men to gather in public places to socialize and there are two areas close to my home where this takes place during warmer times of the year; Rockhill Park and Nadeau Park. Sometimes, it’s just one or two men sitting on the bench seat, and other times it can be up to eight men.

What I find interesting is that the spot where these men situate themselves are spots that rest at the border of the park and public sidewalk and the men usually sit facing the street, rather than the open, green space of the park. The placement of the furniture is not within their control, but their gaze is and their gaze becomes a situation where the neighborhood activity becomes a stage under their watchful eye.

Even though these men are a familiar scene to me, I do not approach them as I would someone I know. Their space is a microcosm of activity that seems private, yet public. Could these encounters be considered macrogestural realms?

It feels so theatrical, as if I’m part of the stage under their gaze, so I’ll create some distance between myself and them. I’ll make sure I’m on the opposite side of the street. This distance allows me to feel as if the hidden barrier is removed.

I tend to approach unfamiliar public encounters in suburbia more cautiously than I do when I’m walking about on Granville Island, or downtown Vancouver. There’s more of a rhythmic operation to walking in densely populated areas, where as my experience in suburban encounters tends to feel more like a sudden interruption; a sudden surprise to be approached with caution.