Dialoguers Give Form to Peterborough’s Paradox

Many things about Peterborough could be mapped — its green spaces, sacred places or cultural sites, to name a few. But during a Peterborough Dialogues session last week a small group was drawn to chart an unlikely and more nuanced sort of feature — this city’s paradox.

As they stood before their large sheet of blank paper, members of the group admit they quickly realized they’d undertaken no easy task.

“Given a large tabletop-sized sheet of newsprint, coloured markers, and prepped only with a quick array of examples flashing by in a Powerpoint explanation of “mind-mapping”, the five of us stood around the table — stumped,” says Allan Reeve.

“I got the closest I’d ever come to a panic attack, staring at where a map of Peterborough Paradox was supposed to emerge,” says Jo Hayward-Haines.

Allan suggested they began with an outline of a road, the opposites appearing on either side. He was thinking spring and of an open road beckoning for a “windows-down-winter-cobweb-clearing” trip.

But when another group member suggested a web, the collective energy responded favourably. Even so, after the web had been outlined and a title inserted, group inertia started settling in again.

“We mumbled about not being artists, not knowing how to do this right, not wanting to start before we had a plan,” Allan says.

And then Jo dove in or, as Allan describes it, “Granny Jo just grabbed a black marker and started raging.

“She scribbled a big black and red mess and from it ragged jagged lines which she cursed as ‘not enough food,’ ‘pain,’ ‘rage’ and ‘we have to face it,’ speaking the ugly truths of our beloved home that real estate agents never mention.

“Now that the thing was a mess we couldn’t go wrong.”

And it was like a dam broke.

“Now that the thing was a mess we couldn’t go wrong. From Jo’s outburst of what sucks about this place, we all picked up markers and started at it,” Allan says.

Around the double-lined edges, went sets of opposites. “As I put out a negative label, Aukje responded with a positive. As diversity was named — a good place for both students and elders — there sprung up both the shining bright and shadow-sides of what those labels hold. As we went, we chattered about what we were doing — and began riffing off one another’s ideas like a seasoned jazz combo.”

“Green leaves sprung up from the dead ends of ‘not enough.’ An image of cigarette butts got sanctified by the words ‘sacred smoke.’ Vomit became art (talk about the inner expressed.) Vacant lots became fertile fields of possibility and empty buildings homes of creativity yet unleashed.

“Jo’s big scary spider of ‘what’s hurting here’ released the energy for it all to get named. A spider is sensitive to whatever vibrates its web — actions and meaning — good, bad, and indifferent — it’s all food for more spinning.”

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And at the heart of all this “mess,” as Jo describes it, she put gold, “because it’s at the heart of disaster when no one has any idea what to do that original solutions appear,” she says.

Now when Allan stands back and looks at the image the group created of Peterborough’s Paradox what comes to mind for him is “a puzzle wrapped up in a mystery.”

“I’ve always loved both mysteries and puzzles. Maybe that’s why I love this place,” he concludes.

Jo suggests a follow-up step could be identifying the actual places that the map describes.

This mapping exercise was part of the Peterborough Dialogues session on connecting to place.

For a story about another mapping experience, click here: Small Group Maps Peterborough’s Third Spaces

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