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How do our cities and urban environments affect how we think, feel, and behave?This question guided me during my one month residency in Montreal in Fall 2019. To explore the concept that cities and people are systems which continually interact with each other I walked through Montreal’s neighbourhoods with my camera to absorb and process the people and places I saw. I best observed the interplay between people and public space on the Metro transit system as they navigated their days. These locations also tied into my ongoing interests in transient spaces and change.
When I returned to Ottawa I began the next phase of this project, which carried through to the first several weeks of the pandemic. I found it eerie to be immersed in my images shot months earlier of places that were mostly empty now. There was a sharp contrast between my photos of groups of people and the images of solitary individuals. I felt this juxtaposition spoke to exactly where we were in those early weeks of the pandemic shutdowns, often on our own and isolated.
When functioning at their best, cities are places to connect and engage. They encourage us to interact with one another, engage with the spaces that we inhabit, and to become enriched by them. In the city, we can enjoy feeling a part of a bigger, vibrant whole.
Disconnection from others seems to lay underneath many of the issues we face today. We risk becoming insular and out of touch with each other when our urban neighbourhoods are designed to be enclaves for people like ourselves instead of seeking out, encouraging, and experiencing diversity. We risk losing touch with the natural world if we do not place a high value on accessible green spaces, water, and public parks. It is fundamental that our cities foster connection and engagement, not disconnection and alienation.
We are living in an in-between state, a passage, a time of transition and uncertainty. Without the crowds and fewer cars, can we reimagine our cities through fresh eyes?