Nurturing Spaces and Fertilizing Ideas: An Inside Look at Oliver’s Boulevard

Article by Kenta Motoike 

Purpose and Overview 

 The goal of the intergenerational creativity project, led by Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society, is to strengthen the connection between youth and seniors through the sharing of their experiences and stories in a collaborative manner. These stories and experiences are conveyed and expressed through multidisciplinary formats in order to facilitate interactions between youth and seniors. The project chose “placemaking” as a multidisciplinary format to inspire people to collectively reimagine and reinvent everyday spaces as the heart of every community, including public and semi-public spaces such as boulevards and front yards.  The Placemaking Team, comprised of all ages, is directed towards addressing the intergenerational and intragenerational distance faced by youth and seniors due to their differences in age, culture and experiences. While youth and seniors at times have trouble relating to each other due to their perceived differences, this distance is further exacerbated by the fact that we live in an increasingly privatised world.

Public sites; places for people to converge and congregate such as parks and public gardens are dwindling. This matter is compounded by the systemic tendency to prioritise personal and corporate privacy at the expense of the community. Some may say we live in a state of communal limbo; people are in proximity to each other physically, yet we remain emotionally distant and disconnected. Large scale systematic change on society is daunting yet achievable, but it must begin locally with a social ripple. The article intends to elaborate on the progress in the Placemaking Team through the process involved in the completion of one boulevard located near 23rd and McKenzie St, namely Oliver’s boulevard.

Concept and Execution

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Oliver’s Boulevard (Before) 

On Sunday March 31st, work on Oliver’s boulevard commenced, however prior to actually working on the garden itself, a considerable time went into conceiving a design for the garden. The Placemaking Team was tasked with realising the potential of each site. At first it seemed like a challenge as Placemaking is both a public and personal affair; each site requires us to consider the particular set of characteristics that determine the suitability of the plants, the aesthetic direction desired by their respective owners, and the opinions of their neighbours. FullSizeRenderI would personally like to have cat related decorations on a boulevard garden, however not everyone would necessarily share my enthusiasm for cats. Thus, a multitude of considerations need to be taken into account as each site has to be catered to individually in order to optimise the space and to make it visually appealing. Initially, prior to confirming the line-up of sites, we tossed around several ideas among the team on what could and should be included in a site. For instance, what types of plants would we use, should these plants be perennials or annuals? When deciding on the specific variety of plants and materials for a site, we would also consider how they could contribute to a dedicated motif and theme.  

img_1993-1024x768The guardians of the boulevard, Oliver and Paulina wanted their garden to not only be aesthetically appealing, but also to serve an ecological function. Therefore the garden would be geared towards accommodating pollinators such as bees and butterflies in order modify the space without impeding on the ecosystem. With this in mind the selection of plants was narrowed down to a variety of native and garden plants that would appeal to and attract bees. A bee bath was added to the garden to attract bees, but ended up unintentionally attracting crows and the water from the bath had to be drained.

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Fibonacci Spiral and Bee Pond (Photo Courtesy of Tarik Malik)

In terms of the aesthetic layout of the garden, we drew influence from one of our facilitators, Ari Lazer, who shared his ideas on Sacred Geometry. The “golden spiral”, also known as the Fibonacci spiral was incorporated into the garden as the proportions of this spiral is associated with beauty in the natural world. It was done so using strings to outline the form of the spiral and we later solidified the pattern by filling the outline with woodchips and pebbles.  Installing the plants and spiral design would be straightforward; however prior to accomplishing this, time was allocated in laying out the gardens space with newspaper and cardboard in order to prevent any unwanted weeds from sprouting out. Afterwards mulch was put on top of the cardboard and newspapers, acting as the foundation of the garden and from there the plants and spiral would be installed with relative ease. The overall time required to execute the desired design took approximately a few hours due to the knowledge and experience  of our facilitators Gabriel Pliska and Patrick McGuire, and of course with the collaborative efforts of the Placemaking team to the task itself. The final touch was the generous donation of a hand-made chair by a neighbour Mr. Katsu Ogawa!

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Progress and Process 

While surveying the sites for the project itself, I noticed a majority of neighbourhood homes were well decorated and thoroughly maintained, just like something you would see in a gardening magazine. Even with the presence of these pristine gardens, the neighbourhoods themselves conveyed a feeling of incompleteness or disruption. Looking back, I realised that this sensation must have come from the contrast between the decorative personal gardens and neglected boulevard space.

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Oliver’s Boulevard Near Completion

It’s worth mentioning that the city of Vancouver not only permits placemaking in public boulevard spaces, but also encourages it. Unfortunately, it remains a rare sight. It could be because people are uninformed or are hesitant to invest in these spaces.  With this in mind the Placemaking project is an attempt to break through this wall of hesitance and stimulate connections within the community. Social connections begin with a conversation and these conversations are how we nurture a network of relationships and thus a community. Sure it may seem trivial to furnish public spaces because the concept itself seems foreign to most, but it’s that small push, the impetus that breaks through this apathetic inertia.

On the 13th of June as we headed back to Oliver’s garden to post a sign promoting Placemaking, I noticed a driver passing by the garden, suddenly decelerating for a brief moment. Their heads turned, gazes locked onto the garden. Gradually, they steered back, resuming their daily activities; their gaze gone, but not lost. The purpose of this anecdote is to illustrate how nurturing even a single boulevard space into a fertile garden can send positive ripples within the neighbourhood. Currently, the Placemaking team is working on several sites at varying degrees of completion and we are still open for volunteers to allow us to work on their boulevard spaces! 

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(From Left) Kenta Motoike, Patrick McGuire, Sean Yoon, Alan Peng, and  Gabriel Pliska 

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