Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Bus - An Analysis

The links between community-creation, design and transit are the subject of numerous studies and authoritative scholarly interviews at the macro level of construction and development projects. What about the micro-level? What can happen on an individual bus to create community?

Broadway can traversed by either the double digit express or the more sedate single digit commuter buses. The express buses are generally double-length monstrosities attached by an accordion joint; the slower commuter buses tend to be low-floor, accessible and a single length long. Each route attracts a different kind of user. Around Commercial or Clark in East Van there are shaky drug users, lower income moms and dads, single hipster romantics and community college students. Getting toward Granville and into Point Grey and UBC the demographic changes to one of middle-class undergrads, well-off young professionals and satisfied couples exposing their first child to the world.

Today, travelling from Clark to Arbutus on the #9, I choose a commuter bus over the express bus. I was feeling lazy and it was a beautiful day. On that bus there was community.

  1. It is a sunny and bright weekend day after 18 straight days of low cold fog

  2. Groups of friends on the bus were chattering merrily

  3. At one point the bus was suddenly cut off by a motorist. A number of riders were nearly knocked off their feet.

  4. At the next intersection the bus driver opened his window and loudly berated the motorist

  5. Just after Clark a young man sat beside me and asked if I was getting off soon as he would be pleased to make room for me to exit the bus.

  6. On learning I was going all the way to Arbutus, we started a random dialogue that included discussions of New York friendliness versus Vancouver friendliness, where East Van started and Central Van ended, what would happen to Vancouver if everyone acted more like Clint Eastwood and the irony having a School of Architecture in an “architecturally illiterate“ building.

  7. Two young girls were trying to find out from the bus driver where a particular restaurant was – he asked the passengers over the PA if anyone could help them. Someone did. They then engaged in a conversation with this women about their art project.

  8. The bus itself was recently built with a variety of seating types (singles, doubles, facing each other, facing the front, areas for wheelchairs and baby buggies, etc.)

How did these events cause community?

Let us use an action/reaction matrix to track these events:




It is a weekend and the day is sunny and bright after 18 straight days of cold fog

People are generally content

Social norms are more flexible as individuals are less defensive

Bus was suddenly cut off by a motorist

The bus driver publicly berated the motorist

An external threat bands the riders together in outrage

A stranger engages me in dialogue

I respond to his somewhat unusual conversation

Strangers have affirmed each other's meaning, existence and importance

Two young girls were trying to find a particular restaurant

Driver used public knowledge to help them.

Leadership and public resources are effectively exercised

Friends are talking loudly

Social norm is to be talking

Conversations between strangers are possible

Bus has a variety of seating types

Engagement between passengers is facilitated

From this matrix, it is clear that community was created by three main factors: public leadership was exercised by the designated communal authority – the bus driver. Individual risk takers break social norms and are responded to positively. A good environment was in place with the weather, time of day and seating layout.

Are these factors dependent on one another? Is there a hierarchy of necessities for a bus-based community? The next step would be to test each condition independently. On a cold, rainy day what happens when you try to talk to the person next to you? Can a bus driver create community just by making the right leadership choices?

My personal suspicion is that they are all necessary. As with the macro-level, public leadership, individual risk-taking and a well-designed built environment will create community. Let us remember that we are the community and must do these things ourselves.


John Horn said...

I don't know what to love more, Stew. The list, the matrix or the architectural nature of the entire piece. Your matrix is logical and funny. And your list was a beautiful cross-section of community.

And is their another analysis pending? For, my friend, I have been riding the bus when the very fabric of our society - frayed, trembling and ready to unravel - has been pushed to its very limit. Which "Bus Analysis" is more common: the sunny community-building kind, or the gloomy community-fraying kind?

I have my answer. What's yours?

Kurt Heinrich said...

I liked the matrix. Way to take the Gumboot around an analytical corner stew.

Theodora Lamb said...

What a great model, Stu! I like your way of organized thinking... have you every thought about using mind maps? Maybe you already do....

Theodora Lamb said...

By the way, while I can't say I've had ground-breaking experiences on the bus itself (perhaps my own fault, I've met some pretty 'interesting' people waiting for the bus.... the number of people who find the courage to come up to you at bus stops and talk about any number of appropriate and inappropriate things is staggering.