Does your Public Space Pass the Seven Year Test?
It was Chris Foxon, a former groundskeeper for the Vancouver School Board that noted that publics change, and that in every seven years there was a new cohort of people that are using public spaces. Mr. Foxon saw the effective use of space as having a seven year life span before those space need to be re-evaluated or repurposed for changing people and interests.
The Tupper Neighbourhood Greenway has been one of the city’s most constant and neighbourhood loved spaces located to the north of Tupper Secondary School in the 400 block of East 23rd Avenue.
The street on this block had been originally closed in the 1970’s due to street racing, and had been left as a closed asphalt surface with two chains on either street end. One side was playing fields associated with the school; the other side was the physical campus of the school. That closed street stayed that way for over thirty years.
In 2003 a student at Tupper Secondary, Jomar Lanot went to play basketball with friends on the school grounds on a weekend. Leaving the grounds he was accosted by a gang not related to the school. He was murdered.
In the aftermath of this tragedy the neighbourhood wanted to do something to commemorate this tragedy, and to bring the community together after such a horrendous event. Walking with community members and teachers, formalizing this closed street into a public space that could be used by residents and the school seemed like the right thing to do.
You can look at the report to Council on this neighbourhood greenway here.
The design for this closed street was developed in concert with school students, who actually led some of the public process. The city’s engineer on the project, Linda Chow, had been a graduate of Tupper Secondary. Over several months the design was collaborated upon, and featured two infiltration gardens at each end of the street, a small amphitheatre of boulders for class teaching and a commemorative boulder in the centre.
The benches that are surrounding the boulder were designed by the shop class at the school, and were fabricated there.
In the City of Vancouver you cannot commemorate people on city streets, so Jomar’s name could not be put on the rock. But what could be placed was a quote. The school student body was given a choice of several quotes that could be engraved on the rock, and they chose a quote which came from Jomar’s school notebooks:
“Culture is the root of our lives and Love is the most powerful force”.
The engraving on the rock was done onsite so that the students could witness that part of the process.
When this neighbourhood greenway was planted, the school and community came out to do the work, while the culinary program at the school provided the cuisine. The VanDusen Master Gardeners followed up doing garden replanting, weeding and maintenance and had an active committee that stewarded the garden. The Lanot family was involved in the planting and the maintenance of the space, and Jomar’s mother spoke at the opening of the greenway.
The students at Tupper Secondary won the Mayor’s Award for Youth Involvement for their participation in the project in 2008.
This is a space that is always used. There is a violincello player that comes in the early afternoons to practice. Children and adults use the space, and there is a bikeway path that goes through the space. The garden portions of the greenway are well maintained and cared for.
These photos show how the gardens look today, with some maintenance being done on the infiltration gardens. The concept and space are now approaching 14 years of being actively used and maintained, although the original story of who Jomar was and how he died has been lost to many newcomers in the area. But the intent of the space, to bring community together carries on.
It is one of the most successful ongoing community spaces in east Vancouver, and illustrates the power of legacy when it is the right idea at the right time: inclusive open space for both students and residents.