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Dispatches from a pool shark on the frontlines of Suburbia - Part 1

posted by Omri Haiven

July 25, 2011

Dispatches from a pool shark on the frontlines of Suburbia - Part 1

Not that type of pool. I’m a lifeguard. I work at private swimming pools all around the island of Montreal as a substitute or stand-in. When you’re sick or don’t want to work for whatever reason, I’m your guy. I’ll bike over to your pool and sit there for 8+ hours at a time.

Why would I travel so far just to sit and bake myself in the sun for a day? A big part of it is that I love biking and being outdoors in Montreal; the city glimmers in the summertime. Mostly though, it’s for the people-watching. The residents whose pools I guard are the other Montréalers. The oft-forgotten residents of Montreal’s suburbs who don’t usually come to mind when we think of la belle cité. My job gives me access to those whose lives are rarely covered in the news, in books or in the movies. Far away from the glamour of the downtown, this city’s suburbs are vast and otherworldly to me. Exploring them and the people who live there has been quite a learning experience and I’d like to share some of my thoughts from it.

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Apartment building pools are interesting places. For most of the residents, when the summer comes, the swimming pool becomes an extension of their home. Children who have languished in their rooms all winter gladly take up residence in the pool every moment that they can, right up until the minute I close it down for the day. Retirees who had lost touch with their friends across the way during the rest of the year happily gab with each other, picking up where they had left off. I watch them – it’s my job – and I learn a lot about how the other half live.

Urban Sprawl has long been thought of in terms of Urban vs. Sub-Urban. This series of blogs will approach the issue from this point of view but with the caveat that categorizing all of urban issues into two camps can easily become a game that leads to essentialist and often stereotype based discussion.

I intend then to offer my own opinions and musing on the Suburbs in this particular city and at this particular time. My viewpoints are by no means expert but I feel the more we radically explore the suburbs the more we can come to terms with the question of what their place is in a world that faces imminent collapse on all sides. For me the suburbs are both a cause and symptom of modern capitalist dominance and I intend to learn a bit more about them through my writing.


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