John Waters, in a recent column in the Irish Times drew attention to Milan Kundera’s observation in his novel Immortality that what we think of as roads actually fall into two categories: roads and routes.
A route differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also becasue it is merely a line that connects one point with another. A route has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points it connects. [A route represents] the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to it has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time. [A road though] is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has a meaning in itself and invites us to stop.
Roads and routes, stressed Kundera, are two conceptions of beauty. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get from one place to another in the shortest possible time. But sometimes this objective, unchecked, leads to an obsessive sense of space as a mere obstacle between two modes of living. We do the same with time, when we wish the week away in order to get to the weekend, which we also lose in worry about the week to come.
Life ends up as hectic race.
Pilgrimage is important. The journey has value. Roads are meant to be travelled.
Reading Kundera’s idea made me think about our work on the Newtownards Road. So much focus has been on ‘Arterial Routes’ – improving access from the suburbs to the city. I’m suspicious that the use of ‘routes’ here is an unconscious stretching after Kundera’s thinking on roads and routes.
The Newtownards Road, an inner city community which has suffered much during our violent past, is in danger of becoming simply a route down which we strive to get the middle classes (from the suburbs) as quickly and safely as possible to the centres of economic wealth generation.
If we keep the natives quiet, and enable public and private transport to move quickly, the economy will benefit.
Our idea for Skainos has been to create a new community along the Road. That the Skainos development becomes a place to stop on the journey along the Road. It is not just a Route.