Nicholas Scott, Ph.D.

mobilities, environments, social movements, cities

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Sounds in Stanley Park

…a big boat’s horn booms through Burrard Inlet: a big, sudden background swell, you feel it inside your body. A low flying seaplane hums overhead, part of all kinds of engine noise in this city wilderness park. Cars and motorcycles and trucks spurt up loudly, and often, from behind my bench overlooking the Pacific. An obnoxious speedboat (powerboat?) performs pirouettes in English Bay, the noise hog. Eavesdrop: “…then it comes down to… if we need to re-evaluate the production cycle…” in a French-Caribbean female voice.

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Big balloons, carried by a man in a nice suit with a purposeful walk, air sacks flapping together: they sound like a parachute undulated by thirty little kids. Oh, I see, there’s a wedding about to happen. Purposeful chatter from behind, by Stanley’s Tea Room (why is there a restaurant in the park?) coming from the pop-up wedding architects, can’t make it out, but it sounds more linear than chit-chat or shooting-the-shit. A violin enters the scene, quiet yet unmistakable and seductive, out of place, making all the other sounds seem chaotic or awkward. A harp joins in, shaped like a giant tear drop. A British tourist voice enters earshot, faraway, but like the violin, crisp in its surroundings, clear diction and projection, or is it the breeze? No. Three British voices enter the periphery of this tiny seashore clearing, and shoot through it like darts, other people notice. The Brits debate whether to descend the stairs onto the seawall and join the late summer throng cycling their way around Stanley Park. Check that: they’re actually debating whether to cycle contraflow (the seawall bike path is oneway), against the traffic stream like sockeye salmon (and there they go and swim). The seawall is a busy invisible place below, from which children’s cries and laughter (difficult to discriminate) billow.

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Hammer on spikes! right on top of my ears. A wedding tent? Then, with a lot less hostility, R&B music floods up onto Stanley Park, right between the four or five trees on this western cliff. A party-boat passes by three hundred metres away, pulsing with dancing bodies, and then vanishes into thin air. Eavesdrop: “..this ground is fucked [spike-hammering man].” A smoother, finer motor noise reveals a helicopter’s not a seaplane. Pitter patter: lots of private vessels slap and rebound off the ocean, faraway, like little energizer drummer boys, now and again making their presence felt in a small sonic opening.

Purrrrrrrrrrclickclickclickclickclickclickclick a tourist walks her bicycle by, she’s heading away from the ocean, just as the wedding chatter rises in a slow crescendo. More guests arrive. Eavesdrop: “…look at that! A policeman on a horse, I need to take a picture and show Rose…” Crows cawwww (where have they been?), two other birds, further away, sing over the harbour, commuting as the crow flies, as a couple, down the shore. Eavesdrop, shit, at me: “Do you mind taking picture? I can’t take a selfie.” [No. I guess not.]photo 1

The crows are louder now, imposing themselves it seems, mimicking the human guests. And those earlier hammer on spikes weren’t wedding tents at all! Overdressed guests grunt behind me, hurling horseshoes, thudding down, tink, kids laugh. Bicycle bells. An open and wild soundscape gives way to a wedding’s. The violin and harp start up again (‘falling in love…with…you’).

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I moved to Vancouver BC from Windsor ON


I’m still living out of a suitcase, but I’m really stoked to be living in Vancouver (in Chinatown) and working at Simon Fraser University (up in Burnaby).

My journey to work is a 15km bike ride uphill. My commute in Windsor was challenging, too: 5km west along Wyandotte Street in Windsor, where I mingled daily with tractor trailers hauling thousands of Chrysler minivans to Michigan, and was struck hard by a car this past March, a week before my interview at SFU!

In my imagination, Vancouver was a cycling Valhalla, a west coast oddity where utility cyclists don’t get milkshakes thrown at them by motorists, and enlightened Mayor Gregor Robertson was bringing sustainable and physically active mobilities to the Canadian masses. The reality is a lot different. While Vancouver is making giant strides towards becoming Canada’s Copenhagen, everyday cycling is still marginalized – and deeply political.

I think I’m in the right place.