Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On the Outskirts

Recently, we traveled through the town of Belleville, Illinois on the light rail. From our seats on the train, we saw barren corn fields and dilapidated houses surrounded by garbage. What we did not see were the antique brick houses or quirky little stores that we knew thrived in Belleville.

This particular trip reminded us of how crucial it is to consider scenery in our ongoing conversations about light rail culture. In our case, the scenery consisted of what most people would consider to be the “outskirts” of Belleville.

Every day, the light rail shapes riders’ perceptions of the various towns and cultures along the tracks. For better and worse, the outskirt views become the source of knowledge. And so for many riders, the glimpses of the towns might represent the whole of what they know about the places they pass.

For those of us who know Belleville, for example, the glimpse the light rail offers doesn't begin to reflect the town's substance. For those of us who know little of the towns on the route, we hardly know what we are missing.

Because of convenience and zoning restrictions, the light rail necessarily travels on the outskirts of the various towns it crosses. And sometimes the outskirts of towns provide viewers with visually stimulating scenes.

Yet, there's always this sense that the light rail enhances and distorts cultural perceptions of particular places. What have you noticed along your travels?

Image courtesy of EZ Journey

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