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Particularity of place

GEIST Magazine: Invisible City

John Paskievich has been photographing the North End of Winnipeg for more than thirty years, and the body of work that he has built up in that time is a revelation of the particularity of people and place… The North End was a culture of cultures long before multiculturalism was a national catchphrase; but ‘official’ Canada perceived the people of the North End to be a homogeneous population, an unassimilated chunk of Winnipeg cut off from the rest of the city and the rest of the country by language, religion, politics, class, ethnicity, and the racket and the physical barrier of thou­sands of freight cars shunting along 120 miles of track in the world’s largest urban railyard—a separation of neighbourhoods and cultures that remains today deeply etched into the psyche of the city.

That someone can be from the “wrong side of the tracks” clearly indicates railways divide both physical and social space, but I’m not familiar with the origin of the phrase. I’d love to know why poor people ended up on the other side… What were the connections between railroad engineering and urban planning?

- Anne


  1. Jack wrote:

    I remember reading somewhere that it’s to do with prevailing winds, not planning – if the tracks run through the middle of a town to a station at the centre, the wrong side is the one that gets smoke blown all over it. Pollution lowers property prices, posh new places don’t get built on the dirty side… Seems, well, at least plausible, in small towns.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 21:12 | Permalink
  2. Anne wrote:

    Hmm. Prevailing winds. In my neighbourhood, I suppose I live on the “right side” of the tracks because the “wrong” side is called Mechanicsville, originally home to all the rail workers…

    Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 09:38 | Permalink
  3. sevensixfive wrote:

    I’ve always assumed it was just a product of applied geography. The tracks create a line, and difference accumulates on either side of it. Where otherwise, socioeconomics would follow a smooth gradient, the discontinuity of the railroad tracks creates creates the opportunity for a striation, a break, and a fast falloff in income and class.

    Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 23:03 | Permalink