Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Writers, Urban Spaces, and the Light Rail

In an earlier post, we noted our interest in particular creative artists, including Colson Whitehead, Edward Jones, and Margaret Atwood, whose writings charted the cultural dynamics of New York City, Washington D.C., and Toronto, respectively. Those writers have served as useful models as we began considering how to represent southern Illinois along the light rail.

Given our interest in gender, urban space, and political territory, Atwood’s are particularly intriguing. Often times, Atwood presents women in her fiction who use the spaces of the city to advance their careers as professional artists. In one short, a female visual artist paints the people she sees from her rooftop—a vantage point that provides her with an especially omnipotent view. In another story, a female photographer takes pictures in storefront windows.

For Atwood’s women, urban spaces serve as both a home and muse.

The mobility of her female protagonists also prompted our fascination. Atwood’s women are established and professional artists because they wander the streets on foot and explore the ravines of the city.

The mobility of Atwood’s women has served as a point of departure for our considerations of women on the move as they travel along the light rail. What opportunities and obstacles do they face as they utilize public transit to navigate any urban space or the St. Louis region in particular? How might painters, photographers, and graphic designers, for example, traveling along the light rail in our region draw on that experience for artistic inspiration?

Aspects of Atwood’s work motivate those kinds of question. But then too, given the “no” vote on Prop M, we’ve recently been wondering about what decreased public transportation service might mean as well. For Atwood, increased mobility is integral to women’s professionalism. So what happens to females who receive diminished opportunities for moving around the city?

We will keep Atwood's work and women in our minds as we observe the changes to our public transportation system over the next few months. As routes are cut,various women around our region will have to find new ways to transport themselves around the city and surrounding areas.

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