CHESS 2014 Photo Contest I: The Suburbs Around You

East York Skies. Source: S. Kheraj

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Last month, we announced a photo contest “The Suburbs Around You” as part of CHESS 2014. We received several submissions and we’ve posted them to a folder on the NiCHE Flickr page here. You can view all the images along with the captions and descriptions in the slideshow above.

Each photo captures some aspect of our local suburban environments. From rabbits to sprinklers, our photographers snapped a series of terrific shots of the suburbs around us.

The winner of this contest is:

"Mixed Use" by Loren March
“Mixed Use” by Loren March

With this photo, Loren provided us with a couple of passages from her essay on the development of the Cornell neighbourhood in Markham, Ontario:

Cornell’s housing units bear new urbanism’s stamp of high quality. The design is very polished, and very traditional. There are probably around five to ten different models to choose from, that come in a sparse variety of subtly different sidings and colour schemes. It is often difficult to tell streets apart, and is necessary to pay a great deal of attention to street signs and the personal accents that some people have added to their homes. Lot numbers are also prominently displayed on each house to prevent confusion, as well as signs in some windows declaring the houses to be Occupied. Everything appears to be very new, showing few signs of wear. It is Cornell’s public space that is often an eyesore. While some park areas are very well-designed and contain lovely modern play structures for children and well-defined promenades, others seem to hang in a sort of limbo, undefined, littered with chunks of cement like dumping zones for trash from the construction sites, kicking up huge amounts of dust whenever a gust of wind rolls through, tearing at the sky with scattered rebars that randomly stick out of the ground like gnarly and twisted metal spaghetti. The presence of construction is overwhelming. In much of the community there are more machines than people, and dust mingles in the air with the sounds of jackhammering, sawing, and drilling. Much of the green space or undeveloped space has been allowed to grow over with dandelions, which are fought off furiously by a number of frustrated residents, some of whom toil furiously in their yards with all kinds of lawn implements, digging up the weeds one by one in the hot afternoon sun. The trees are much taller at the northeast end of the community, where construction is essentially over and the grass no longer looks patchy, dried out, and freshly laid. The trees have leaves, giving hope to the residents in the newer outcroppings of the neighbourhood that one day they will enjoy the same aesthetic.

One would be hard pressed to find any commercial centres at all in Cornell. The “commercial strip” on Bur Oak Avenue is little more than a barber shop and a couple of office fronts, already closed for the day at by three p.m. Any of the other blocks that could be mistaken for commercial areas turned out to be strips of drug-related pharmacies, dentists, and gynecologists’ offices masquarading as commercial areas. Everything seemed to be related to health or perhaps to the nearby hospital. In fact, upon asking one woman for directions to the nearest location one might buy a coffee, she responded: “the hospital.” Another inquiry solicited a similar response: “No stores. Go to Toronto.

– excerpt from “Cornell: An Excursion,” essay (and photo) by Loren March

I want to thank all of the participants for submitting photos for the contest:

Tina Adcock
Claire Campbell
Anne Janhunen
Loren March
Chris Miller
Sara Spike
Catherine Timms

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Sean Kheraj

Associate Professor and Vice-Provost Academic at Toronto Metropolitan University
Sean Kheraj is a member of the executive committee of the Network in Canadian History and Environment. He's an associate professor in the Department of History and Vice-Provost Academic at Toronto Metropolitan University. His research and teaching focuses on environmental and Canadian history. He is also the host and producer of Nature's Past, NiCHE's audio podcast series and he blogs at

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