Yesterday I went out riding near where I grew up, something I haven’t really done before. I moved away from home as soon as I could and never really turned my attention outward to the countryside. Whenever I did go riding as a teenager I went inward to the big city. Nothing about long rides on rural roads appealed to me then. After a year of exploring Taiwan 台灣, typically on two wheels, I was curious to find out what might happen if I took the same unscripted approach. In Taiwan it was my habit to set out on rides with only a vague idea of where I was going. I opened myself to the possibilities and discovered many things of great interest to me that I might not otherwise have seen.
So, what happens when I try the same thing here in suburban Canada? Not much, unsurprisingly. My ride was admittedly short as I am still dealing with jetlag (dehydration, really) but there really isn’t much out there. From my family home on the very edge of the built-up area I headed west into Oakville, riding along poorly maintained roads through open farmland. I turned on Sixth Line and came back along Eglinton, going as far as the rundown shopping mall1 around which this entire development is based.
That last fact is new to me—I only found out while browsing Wikipedia as I drafted up this post. Erin Mills, where I grew up, is a planned community designed and executed by a corporation, Cadillac-Fairview, primarily known for owning and managing shopping malls. The mall was not built to serve the needs of the community—the community was built to serve the needs of the mall.
Learning this, I had to stop and wonder how an individual like myself had ever emerged from such a vacuous place. There simply isn’t anything to do around here except go to the mall or play league sports. Well, I’m sure there are Tupperware parties and other trappings of suburban living, but you get my point. The suburbs are a barren cultural wasteland—and this place, purpose-built around a mall and home to more than 100,000 people, really takes it to a new level.
I have three influences to thank for an upbringing that was surprisingly rich despite the meagre offerings of the surrounding neighbourhood: books (I grew up in a library); the net (I was online in 1994, dialing up BBSes before jumping on the web); and my parents (who granted access and cultivated my intellectual curiosity about the world). Without these windows to the vast realms of human experience beyond the suburbs I might still be here, trapped in this intellectual sterile environment, living the Canadian dream.
I suppose that in some roundabout way I have learned something about my origins and my place in the universe even if the ride itself was bland and uninteresting.
- Curiously, the mall is featured in the documentary film Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, which I have not seen. From what I read in the companion book Chomsky was interviewed by a television host on the big screen at the center of the mall, which no longer exists. At that time I would have been about 10 or 11 years old, playing mini-golf beneath the massive wall of televisions to celebrate some other kid’s birthday, blithely unaware of the narrative unfolding overhead. ↩