Poetics of the City

Sharing Things With Strangers Is Quite Unique to the City

Poetics of the City

I was recently at a show to watch a friend's band perform. The opening act was an artist I didn't know about. I had spotted her earlier in the crowd because she was wearing head to toe knit and it fit her perfectly and seemed so comfy and soft. And I loved the contrast with her chunky platform boots. Anyways, when I understood she was performing I got even more interested and curious in her.

She was here, on a Friday night, performing in front of a small local crowd, jamming to her creations. I appreciated the gradual increase in her level of comfort to a point where she was freely jumping up and down and dancing to the rhythm of her beats. She owned the stage and let the crowd sing her lyrics. It was beautiful. Then I got thinking, what does her life look like outside of that stage? What does her apartment look like?

I realized everyone in a city is just like her, manifesting what they are, expressing themselves, showing up to gigs or other opportunities, vibing with crowds of half people they know and half strangers. Just like her, they probably took the metro to get here. Just like her, they ordered their beer at the bar. Just like her, they headed outside to smoke.

Right before that show, we had met a friend's girlfriend for the first time and she hosted us for a small dinner party at her place. We were having a sweet time and I kept saying how cute I found the place, how I loved the furniture, the accessories and the whole setup really, from the balcony to the bidet. I later learned she's actually 7 years older than me and had gotten to know what made her happy and comfortable and had consciously manifested that in all the details of her flat.

I love that about cities; how apartments are unique collections of the people in it. Every single unit of housing in a city represents something of the people who live there.

It's like observing strangers on public transport, and noticing their favourite ways to commute. Some pull out paper books to read, some keep looking at their itinerary on their phone to make sure they don't miss their stop, some sneak in beer cans in preparation for their night out. I love these glimpses of people's lives we get by sharing these moments in a city.

Being able to share things with strangers is quite unique to the city. We share rooms in apartments. We share books at the library. We share seats on public transport. We share tables at the coffee shop. We share bikes at the BIXI dock. We share park benches. We share bike lanes. We negotiate non-verbally at intersections. We open doors for each other.

I will never tire of walking down a street and appreciating the multiplicity and complexity that is to be imagined behind those closed doors. Especially at night when you get different lights from the windows. Flashing lights from a TV that fills up the room to the rhythm of the plot. Coloured LEDs that might indicate a younger generation. Or that one soft lightbulb in the corner, where we can infer that someone is deep in study, crouched over their desk.

The magic of the city is this dense but distanced co-habitation. We are all physically very close to each other, yet worlds apart.