Sunday, April 20, 2014

Perspectives in Unlikely Places

I did something yesterday that I haven't done in a long, long, long time. I saw my city in a new light. Not metaphorically, but literally. I chanced upon an interesting perspective in the most unexpected of places and came away feeling the better for it. 

Where, one might ask? Along a newly constructed freeway, recently opened up for use. 

This freeway connects the commercial south of the city to some of the suburbs in the north. It runs through (or more appropriately, above) a many-kilometer stretch that has been long-forgotten and mostly ignored by the public at large, in all probability because it is home to dock operations, warehouses and dreary manufacturing set-ups that appeal to and attract almost no one other than those who work there - and even they might legitimately question its appeal. 

As I wound my way along the freeway's length at a quick clip, I realized that I was looking with the eyes of a tourist, a first-time visitor. There were new vistas on both sides - housing complexes - well maintained officers' quarters with towels of the same color hanging on clothes-racks in every balcony, as well as run-down slum (re)development projects. Trucking depots. Fields. Massive cranes, shipbuilding yards, a mini-oil refinery, gauzy-looking smokestacks, hills on the periphery and everywhere, everywhere, a delicious profusion of yellow marigolds. My work-life stomping grounds, as they looked from a distance.  

I realized how quick we are, in our fascination with constructs such as 'knowledge work,' 'service economies,' and 'development' to forget about the foundations on which our fashionable enterprises rest. Almost as if the manufacturing of real, three-dimensional things is something so far removed from what we do and enable, that we no longer need to acknowledge or appreciate what it takes to make and move products. These tasks are relegated to the margins of our imaginations and our geographies, and we can spend our lives and conversations pretending that we have transcended 'labouring' and 'doing.'

Capitalism isn't pretty. But that is no reason not to at least witness the engines of our economy and the levers and pistons that power our cities at work. And to feel just a little humbled and awed by the infrastructural muscle on the surface of which lightly perch our 21st century ideas of consumerism.  

Now, in my city, I get to catch a glimpse. And I look forward to it. 

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