Bikes and Belonging: A Photographic Exploraiton of the Bike Host Program in Toronto
thesisposted on 25.05.2021, 07:15 by Yvonne Verlinden
This major research project uses photography to explore questions of mobility, place-learning and belonging with newcomers participating in the Bike Host program in Toronto. Created by CultureLink Settlement Services in 2011, Bike Host loans bicycles out to immigrants and refugees and matches them with a cycling mentor. Through small group rides and large events, the participants have the opportunity to explore Toronto, gain confidence riding, make social connections, practice English and engage in volunteerism. For this project, a dozen participants also took pictures of how they were using their bicycles and shared their photos in small group, semi-structured discussions, which were recorded and analyzed. Four themes emerged: freedom, comfort and knowledge, discovery and belonging. The photographers found that compared to walking, they could travel further more quickly and with less effort, which prompted them to make more trips within their communities. The photographers also appreciated that, unlike with transit, they could leave whenever they wanted and take whichever route they wanted. This new mobility led to discovery, in both guided group rides to iconic Toronto destinations and in neighbourhood meanderings, undertaken independently along local streets and trails. Through this process, they filled in the gaps in their local cognitive maps. Increased familiarity led to an increased sense of belonging, as places that were once unfamiliar began to feel more like home.