Last May, a few handcrafted mailboxes mysteriously cropped up around north end Halifax---mounted to lampposts, nestled discreetly in bookshelves in local coffee shops and art galleries. The idea was not to replace Canada Post, but to encourage people to examine their relationship to their community and to each other through letter writing. It would be a way to "Write Your City."
And it would be free.
"In letter-writing, people are reflecting on their own personal geographies and their local environments. And I think reflection on those details is what's empowering," says City Mail founder Alison Creba. "That gives you a lot of agency to recognize yourself in your own place."
It's been six months and Creba---a 22-year-old Toronto transplant and more recent Dalhousie graduate---is very happy with the way her project is playing out. "I'm so surprised at the places it's taken me and the people I've met," she says.
This weekend, will mark her biggest triumph yet; City Mail will have an installation as a part of Nocturne. "It's the biggest thing I've ever done, even dreamed up or anything," she says.
On Saturday night, a storefront at the corner of Barrington and Blowers Streets will host Creba hard at work in her mock post office, complete with conveyor belts and mail sorting systems. Passersby will be invited to watch, but only from behind glass on the sidewalk. Ironically, zoning laws won't allow people inside to write letters.
Invisible lines, as Creba calls them, dictate how we interact with each other and our community, an issue upon which City Mail comments. "There's a lot of bureaucratic stuff---invisible lines that hold us in place---for better or for worse," she says.
"I think that lampposts are very much pillars in our communities, in more ways than just holding up the wires," says Creba, as she considers the law that prohibits the use of these posts for expression. "I understand that there are those lines. But what are they about?"
Creba says she hasn't experienced much push back from the city, save for two incidences with the mailbox outside Java Blend on North Street. Twice, that box was taken down by city officials (allegedly with shovels). "It was the largest one and the most well-noticed," she says. The box now sits on a shelf inside the shop.
Many cool things have happened thanks to City Mail. But Creba says one of the coolest began with an idea from her friend Andrew Patterson, who created a music-related survey and attached it to City Mail's newsletter. As the surveys came back, Patterson began building unique and personalized mix tapes for each respondent.
"Man, that is the coolest thing," says Creba. "Twenty-five people got mix tapes for using City Mail!"
For now, it's business as usual. Creba and her friend William Vandermeulen collect the mail from the five boxes at least once a week. And they deliver each letter or package by bicycle. Creba admits, letter writing is hard. But she doesn't ask much.
"Pay attention. Look around. Comment on it. You don't have to be an activist."
1559 Barrington Street, Zone 1