Tear down that hedge, Mr. Gorbachev! Some weeks ago we hatched a neighbourhood project in placemaking. The catalyst was twofold. First, to make a permanent, inviting space along the sidewalk and verge where adults and children alike tended to gather. Second, to shake up the surrounding streetscape with a measure of openness and eccentricity. Small talk led to suggestions, until we all expressed the sense that our corner of Kitsilano could use a dose of community and art.
First to go was the imposing cedar hedge that separated our adjoining properties. We replaced the cedars with a short row of Portuguese Laurel, and added a raised vegetable bed on our driveway to benefit from the improved sunlight. Framing the laurels, our neighbour Michael built an L-shaped bench from hemlock, cedar, and fir. A shared space could then spill around both houses for flexible use.
Across the sidewalk, the heart of our project soon began. We had used the grassy strip beside the sidewalk as a kind of impromptu outdoor living room for a season or two, leaving out deck chairs and lawn furniture for sunny days. Eventually Michael set a bench on concrete anchors, but the patchy sod was still a wet inconvenience. With the help of a Neighbourhood Small Grant, we decided to pull out the grass and create a kind of plaza to focus the block. I spent one hot Saturday chopping out the sod and roots, and Chris provided pavers for us all to try laying. Just about everyone set at least one.
Beyond the physical improvement of space, we’re sharing intangible know-how of carpentry, gardening, and landscaping. We’re also sharing ideas, laughs, and food, gathering interest from the rest of the community as the space continues to evolve. Dog walkers and locals with grocery bags sometimes stop to ask what we’re doing, along with many smiles and murmurs of approval. “You guys are doing it right!” said one Kitsilano tank-top dude, motioning thumbs up.
Up next: the art projects. See our fun-loving dinosaur pictured below? He will soon be transformed into a Gaudi-inspired trencadís sculpture to liven the street. He will accompany a tall, standing bear crafted from cedar topiary — his feet visible in the photo above — a kind of nod to the staid hedge that once divided us.