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This morning I embarked on my first CITY MAIL delivery-route, and observed a lot as I negotiated the streets of Halifax: from as far south as Hollis and South, to as far north as Kane Pl. in the Hydrostone neighbourhood.

The CITY MAIL box at Trident on Hollis St.

Here are some of my initial observations/reflections:

– Wandering the city with purpose provided a fresh and dynamic orientation to the streets: before, I was an aimless wanderer — but my engagement with the city’s roads and built environment transformed Halifax into the background of a journey through a maze-like series of paths and nodes — streets ending abruptly were my foe, and I had to rely on the map of the city I had created in my head, and friendly folk on the street to achieve success

– I experienced the true meaning of the “Travelling Salesman Problem“which had been introduced to me through GIS — using the program’s algorithm function to develop delivery routes that minimize path-over lap and maximize efficiency. As an actor within a wider delivery system I found the greatest challenge was route-planning, and was frustrated when I had to back track.

– The systems of the street numbers often lie! The street numbers up Newton hop – skip – and jump, skipping hundreds of houses — this instilled doubt as to my orienteering capabilities as I tried to locate houses along parallel streets based on inference.

– CITY MAIL gave me the vehicle to tap into an otherwise invisible network in Halifax centred in the North End. A lot of the mail-boxes I delivered to were very far from the North End, but indicators such as the Ecology Action Centre‘s “No Fliers Please” stickers, and “We Support Our Postal Workers” affirmed that these houses in the South and West were distant outposts along a centralized network of communication.

– Many mail boxes, such as the one above, are located outside — which is indicative of the immense trust folks place in others in the city – or perhaps a tacit reverence for the written word; it would be unimaginable to leave your email inbox open on the street giving others the opportunity to rummage through it.

CITY MAIL is a project by Alison Creba, dedicated to the free delivery of inner-city postables within Halifax. This summer, eight CITY MAIL mail-boxes have been placed around the Halifax peninsula, in a variety of instituions, including Coffee-Shops, Ice-Cream Parlours and Office-Supply-Stores.

Using Alison’s words:

CITY MAIL is an initiative dedicated to delivering the letters/postcards/notes that arrive in a handful of mail boxes constructed and installed on lampposts around Halifax. The project has become more profound than simply collecting and distributing letters; it has emerged as a comment on the local social and physical infrastructures that make up our city. CITY MAIL challenges participants to consider the geography of the place they live, asks them to consider not only individual houses, but also community nodes; coffee joints, communal desks, outdoor furniture. It challenges us to think about the routes we take, and the routines we follow. CITY MAIL promotes a unique reflective character that lies distinctly in the act of letter-writing. Perhaps it is because letters move slowly that writing them requires individuals to consider themselves, their communities, their cities. Each letter writes a new story of a personal city, an individual experience.

A city is a fascinatingly complex place where layers of networks and nodes temporarily impose themselves on ephemeral physical urban space. The various patterns of communications, waves of energy, and linkages between geographically disparate places are largely invisible to an outsider. CITY MAIL taps into these city-streams of information while reminding its users of the value of thoughtful, written words and letters — a kind of communication who’s essence lies in its seeming timelessness and artifactuality.

The Urban Geographer is excited to announce that he will become the guardian of CITY MAIL while Alison is away for 12 days, and with the help of another guardian, will be collecting and delivering the mail and newsletters that stream through the iconic blue CITY MAIL-boxes. I am incredibly curious as to how this experience will affect my perception of the city of Halifax. As a newcomer, I have only scratched the surface of the lay-out of this city, and have limited connections to the built environment and the residents who surround me as I negotiate the streets and sidewalks of the city. CITY MAIL, as Alison has said, is much more than delivering mail. I am eager to learn what that means. I look forward to the relationships I will be forging with the many participants that are necessary for an inner-city mail system to function.

I will be recording my experiences, and look forward to sharing them with you as I endeavour on my journey through Halifax as the CITY MAIL messenger.