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Gridlocked and Loaded: Peterborough’s Tragic Vehicular Love Affair 

Written by
Isla Gole
and
and
July 6, 2023
Gridlocked and Loaded: Peterborough’s Tragic Vehicular Love Affair 
Graphic by Isla Gole
“Does this mean I'm not going to be a trail-blazing #WomanInSTEM after all? Is 58% of my brain really just a decaying grey mass incapable of recollecting the difference between RNA polymerase I and IV?! Who gives a shit. The only RNA I need is Rum n’ Amaretto, goddamnit”

...I thought to myself after I received a 42% on my genetics midterm. It was to be expected during the sloppy first batch of pandemic-proof online classes, but nonetheless the sting of disappointment was just as unforgiving. It was during this time that I had recently begun embracing a more compassionate approach to my failures and shortcomings. Rather than succumbing to a usual self-deprecating sob session, I opted to embark on a quest to evoke my brain's happiness-inducing chemicals through some light movement—a ‘mental-health walk’ if you will. Headphone-adorned, and teary mascara streaks removed, I let my intuition take the lead. 

I liked disconnecting my mind from my body when I walked. Mechanical in motion, absent of thought, just how I intended. At times it almost felt as if I regressed to a human exosuit-form succumbing my motor control to the likes of an arquillian creature from Men in Black. Entranced by the mundane and distracted enough by strange smells and bouncy Aphex Twin songs in my ear, I hadn’t realized my aimless saunter had led me to promising r/urbanhell contender, and pedestrian purgatory, Landsdowne street. Being a bipedal bag of organs in a traffic panopticon is so inherently embarrassing. The asphalt closely neighbouring skinny weed-ridden sidewalks, built like the afterthoughts they were, tee-up a perfect formula for man vs. machine power imbalance. The earnest pedestrian of human stature forced to relinquish their already-bleak walkable area so their Corolla-manning superiors may reach their destinations faster than their threadbare hightops could ever dream of. 

This covert form of public humiliation was made especially apparent while attempting to cross the intersection of Lansdowne street West and The Parkway, where I requested to cross and was able to listen to Björks’Venus as a Boy” in its entirety before my illuminated permission to halt traffic for my selfish desire to cross the road was at last, granted. 

I could sense the gaze of an older man in a flashy roadster fixed upon me, to which I responded by clenching my jaw and slouching my shoulders, the usual way I brace myself for an inappropriate comment. To my surprise, he refrained from any such remark. I caught one more glimpse of him, discerning the evident frustration in his body language. One hand gripping the steering wheel, the other dangling outside the vehicle, incessantly tapping the driver's side door in irritation. A deep breath followed by a click of his teeth, and then a forceful acceleration once the traffic light switched to green, magnified the notion that I was merely an inconvenience to the flow of cars, and somehow an inadequate citizen for not owning a vehicle. Perhaps my perpetual cloud of social anxiety taints my perception of such encounters, but it's hard not to feel like an incomplete member of society in an environment brimming with "no loitering" signs nearly equal to the number of parking spaces.

This next section is an interactive simulation, where your participation is completely optional. If you so desire to partake in this cutting edge segment of immersive journalism, please rise if seated, stand upright and motionless no more than 30 cm away from the closest wall, click the link on the following embedded video below, and resume reading this article once the video is complete. You will be alerted of its completion by a round of applause when then, and only then, you may return to your seated position. 

Welcome back to the article! I thank you for your participation, or loathe you for your apathy. If you did participate, you’re now fit to authentically sympathize with me, if you did not, you must have some sort of god-like intuition to assume that staring at a wall or waiting to cross the street for five minutes are both indeed undesirable activities, unbearable, if not for Björk. Opting to walk in a car-dependent town like Peterborough is like ordering off of the kids menu as an adult. The option is there, but it's not really designed for you and the amount of sustenance (or sidewalk) you receive is only large enough for a child. 

Peterborough has the potential to be a good city, a great city even. Not to say it is completely devoid of redeeming qualities, strictly during daylight hours and equipped with bear spray, I have most definitely indulged in several bouts of runners high within the rotary trail, and enjoyed countless head-up dips in the Otonabee. Ultimately, Peterborough is being held back by its tragic love affair with cars and the entangled web of politics that come with it. 

Let us harken back to the bygone days, when metropolises were meticulously crafted to cater to every need, with all essentials within a leisurely stroll's reach. Whether by horse-drawn carriages, rail, or quaint streetcarts, the connections between places were but a charming interlude. Yet, once you reached your destination, a wonderland of accessibility unfurled before you, all reachable by foot. Streets and outdoor spaces, akin to enchanting outdoor rooms, beckoned with comfort and joy, inviting pedestrians to traverse their delightful path, far removed from the drudgery of dystopian suburbs lining downtown outskirts that to many of us, including myself, complacently call home today.

Ah, Peterborough, the potential that courses through your veins is palpable. Like an artist's canvas yearning for brushstrokes, you yearn for the touch of visionary planners and passionate citizens, but instead, you are bombarded with pleas from elected officials for opulent arenas, ‘luxury’ lofts and other unimaginative gentrification initiatives sprouting like rashes on your hard-to-reach areas. 

Picture this—a tapestry of urban magic woven with a fine-grained mix of functions, a true symphony of city living. Down on the ground level, lively commercial properties dance in harmony with the hum of life, while above, apartments and offices stand as sentinels of aspiration. On the off chance that you, the reader, happen to be an individual residing in one of downtown Peterborough's said sentinels, you may be thinking I have excluded the fact that your George, Hunter, or Water street living quarters are in fact a short distance away from a multitude of gastropubs, antique stores and dispensaries allegedly enriching Peterborough's downtown core, it may be true that your (likely limited) amount of disposable income remaining after paying such exorbitant rent, can be spent in several walkable downtown locations. However, what makes the aforementioned fantasized edifices truly remarkable is their innate flexibility. A shop may metamorphose into a cozy home, a residence may evolve into a bustling office, all in tune with the city's evolution over time, which I believe is where Peterborough and several other post-war subdivisions prone to gentrification fall flat. More often than not, elected officials are achingly out of touch with the varied desires of their citizens from all walks of life, and with such neglect, the melting pot of colourful civilian needs are simmered down to a murky, greenish brown average that manifests itself as chain restaurants, liquor licenses, and generic retail outlets. 

Coming to Peterborough for the sole purpose of its post-secondary facility, I am cognisant of the fact I am indeed a contributing piece of rubbish in the dumpster fire that is Peterborough’s gentrification, however, I still wish to see this fine town break free from the shackles of car-centricity and embrace a future where the downtown streets breathe and pulse with pedestrian delights, as opposed to dead malls and parking lots occupying what would be wonderful spaces for affordable housing. 

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