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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

‘City Mail’ creator explains her love of letters

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HALIFAX – Since a handful of enchantingly mysterious mailboxes appeared in Halifax’s north end last spring, chitter-chatter about what this free, local mail service is all about has traversed the neighbourhood as zestfully as each package delivered. At last Wednesday’s Allan Street Reading Series, a pile of about 30-40 people cozied up to hear Alison Creba, director of City Mail, read a short treatise on why she is interested in the mail. Drawing on Jane Jacobs, she illuminated the importance of the physical documentation of our cities, and cited local examples to highlight the significance as our words and sentiments journey across public spaces.

Despite a small stir it caused among skeptical commenters in The Coast last May, City Mail thrives, and its philosophy is ever more solidified. It goes, more or less, like this: Drop your mail at any of the mailboxes (located at Java Blend, Eyelevel Gallery, the corner of Cunard and Creighton, Windsor and Lawrence, or an additional box soon to be going up at Ecology Action Centre) and it will be lovingly bicycle delivered to your best-described destination — whether it be a library, coffee shop, park bench, or conventional address.

I can only gleefully imagine the plethora of notes, photos, love letters, baked goods and crafts that have soared across the neighbourhood. Personalized mixed-tapes have been dispatched to the first 30 people who responded to the call. A periodic newsletter is delivered to a slew of regular users. And next Saturday’s Nocturne will host a City Mail installation at the former Carsand-Mosher site on Barrington at Blowers.

Find her full essay at the Allan Street Reading Series blog here.

For an abridged blurb on City Mail’s aims, see below:

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.


One comment

  1. I love the idea that City Mail encourages Haligonians to send physical, beautiful mail to one another.

    However, our postal system in Canada is a public service in a world where things are becoming increasingly privatised. Shouldn’t we be supporting our mail carriers and a system that already exists and is relatively cheap?

    I don’t agree that mail is becoming inaccessible due to the rising cost of postage. I find fault with City Mail touting community building when the majority of people I know sending City Mail are mostly the art school students and the like. Probably an inflammatory statement, I’m sure.

    I wish City Mail would push past the realm of an art project and explore the mail system we have in place, and ask what City Mail adding to, or taking away from. Is it simply a novelty?