City Commons: A Look Back

From July 11-14, the Vancouver Tool Library hosted the first City Commons, an interactive festival to make and repair shared places. There were six building projects happening over the four days, each reflecting a need in a particular community. In the evening, everyone was invited to attend events designed to celebrate different aspects of public places.

City Commons had been in the works since February, when the VTL announced the info session at Mt. Pleasant Community Centre. From there, the planning process took off and we navigated our way to the finale of what was new ground for Vancouver. City Commons was based on City Repair’s Village Building Convergence in Portland, Oregon; this was also said to have inspired the Museum of Vancouver’s Upcycled Urbanism.

We opened City Commons with a special night of speakers and live music at the Safe Amplication Site on Commercial Drive. Thanks to Lisa Moore from Rhizome Café, Andy Longhurst, host of The City podcast on CITR and CJSF radio, and Naomi Steinberg and Shahira Sakiyama from the St. George Rainway project for speaking at the event. Many inspiring words about placemaking! Opening night attendees were entertained by music from Rosie and the Jugheads, a fun traditional/jazz band, and had the opportunity to learn more about the City Commons projects and map their favourite hidden public places in the Lower Mainland.

The project builds started the day after and lasted through the weekend. Here is a more detailed look about how they went:

Participants at The Plot Thickens: Lakeview United Church Garden site gave it some much-needed repair. Garden boxes were weeded and topped up with soil, a small tool shed was built, and the whole area was landscaped. Previously managed by Planted Network, the garden will be taken over by the Cedar Cottage Food Network, a network of agencies and community members who support food security initiatives in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage neighbourhood.  Volunteers and tenants of nearby social housing units will tend to the garden. It will be used for educational workshops and any food grown will go back to the community.

The team at Mushboo transformed a vacant lot into what they call a UFARM (Urban Farming Art Research and Mycorenewal Center), which included a learning garden for mycology and raised beds for community members. As are many great things in Vancouver, the UFARM and neighbouring Yummy Yards are now being threatened by condo development. The UFARM is currently shut down, while Yummy Yards is fighting to continue growing on the City boulevard near their original farm. You can read more about their struggle here.

At the Gather Round at St. George and 10th Avenue, the day began with the painting of a temporary street mural and finished up with a fun block party in the evening.  Neighbours of all ages followed an artist’s rendition of the mural and transformed this intersection along the 10th Avenue Bikeway. After the painting was complete, everyone stayed for a delicious dinner and activities in the streets. Later into the evening, an impromptu musical performance by some of the participants continued to stop vehicle, bicycle, and foot traffic. Although the biodegradable paint will eventually wash away, a dialogue will continue about art in the streets of our city.

The Cascadia North Co-operative Cob Oven lives at the Nisga’a Nation Headquarters in Hastings-Sunrise. Many people came out to get their hands (and feet!) dirty in the mix of sand, dirt, straw, and water that makes up cob. This build was stretched out over the entire four days due to the time it takes cob to dry before the next layer is added. It was great to learn how the cob-building technique can be transferred to other projects; many of you have probably encountered a cob bench somewhere else around Vancouver!

The folks at Southlands Farm were very involved with City Commons from the beginning. The site host training weekend took place at the farm, where everyone learned about natural building and participated in team-building exercises. For their project, Southlands wanted an open air theatre and educational space for their future farm school program. The farm already offers many great summer camps and workshops for youth and this will allow them to hold more sessions outside, under the new living roof.

Livable Laneways, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the overlooked laneways and alleys of Vancouver into pedestrian-friendly civic spaces, finished a section of their Paths to Plazas project, which will rejuvenate a City-owned parking lot at Main and 7th. City Commons participants finished two planter boxes complete with benches. The boxes were painted in dark blue and purple, and flowers were arranged inside. Historically, the Mt. Pleasant Bandstand performed in that space every Sunday and was an incredible gathering place. In tribute to the old days, Livable Laneways hopes to install a stage for performances in the future. Look for farmers markets on weekends in the laneway nearby and for the area to be highlighted during Main Street’s Autumn Shift Festival on September 15.

Two more evening events took place over the weekend. There was a tour of the Cottonwood Community Garden (speaking of development threats…) and of the Purple Thistle Guerrilla Gardening projects in the industrial area around Strathcona on the Thursday evening. Thanks to Len from Cottonwood and Kelsey from the Purple Thistle for their time and great stories! On Friday, a bike scavenger hunt took participants on a epic journey around public places in the city, searching for their next clues.

It was a wonderful weekend filled with huge accomplishments, beautiful weather, and friends old and new. A huge thank you from the City Commons planning committee to everyone who participated in the events and helped out along the way!

More pictures below:

Until next time!