Curiosity, Policy and Creating Windsor Way- Part Two

I have always believed that residents in commmunity have a pretty good idea about what they need to make their neighbourhood better, and that for good walkable and cohesive communities, we need to listen to what citizens are saying. The most innovative work was always in concert with a community.

I am genuinely curious about City policy-where it came from, and why. Why City policy is the way it is really needs to be questioned, and made better. The definition of the word “policy” is a principle, course of action, or strategy adopted or proposed by a government, business, or an individual. It is City Hall house rules for all the neighbourhoods.


Peter’s Bench that started the transition of Windsor Street into the Neighbourhood’s highly touted “Windsor Way” Photo by Jean Sorensen

An example-why did Fire Services not like speed humps and traffic circles on city streets? I thought it was because it lengthened the time it took emergency vehicles to reach their target. I later found out another reason was that firemen can bump their helmeted heads in the constrained cubbies of the fire trucks, and can be seriously injured. So the issue is not really about the policy of HAVING speed humps and traffic circles, but how to amend the design of those items to minimize risk to our emergency responders.

Peter Wohlwend had shown that placing a bench in front of his house on Windsor Street, a street frequented by prostitutes, did not increase that traffic, but allowed local residents a place to sit on their way carrying groceries, or picking up school children. Peter also had another idea, wanting to garden the city owned portion of the garden frontage of his house. Along Windsor Street, the city owned “boulevard”, the space between the curb and the sidewalk was an area where residents were NOT to garden. The reason? The City ran all the piping and tubes of the city under that area.

09junemobyandpointrobertscompost 798I had to figure out who had jurisdiction for the city owned boulevards in front of each house facing onto Windsor Street. We had decided to propose gardening just on the area between the curb and the sidewalk. The actual city property also extends from the sidewalk to the private property line. You can always tell where this is by the location of the water service. You will see a metal 10 cm. (4 inch) round cover with the letters “VWW” on it. That stands for Vancouver Water Works. That cap is on the delineated boundary between the City owned and the private homeowner property.

There were two municipal departments responsible for City boulevards-Engineering, which had control of the city wiring and piping in the boulevards, and the Park Board, which owns all the trees located on the boulevards. They also own and control any other tree that may have also been placed on the city-owned boulevard.

Engineering agreed to allow gardening on the boulevard if newly added soil was mounded up one foot (30 cm.) off the existing ground level, and homeowners were planting in that new soil.

The Park Board allowed for gardening among their boulevard trees with the understanding that no soil was to be mounded at the base of trees (tree rot could happen) and that any tree roots would remain exposed.

By calling the program a “Blooming Boulevard Demonstration Project” we reached Civic consent to allow for boulevard gardening for 37 blocks along Windsor Street.

07margreenplanting.doc 072We developed three rules:

1. All plantings were to be one meter in height or less, so that visibility fron the street to the sidewalk was maintained;

2 All plantings were to be planted in mounded up soil which was provided at no cost from the Vancouver Landfill, which created a wonderful plantable compost from the City’s greenwaste;

3. Perennials were to be planted to provide some winter interest.

Peter Wolhwend and Midori Oba and the local community organized a “Dig-In” Saturday, where the homeowners of one block of Windsor Street had their boulevard gardens dug up by neighbourhood volunteers. They also dug up a “community” garden just outside the school grounds, surrounded by pickets that had each been creatively painted by the school’s students.

A celebration followed with a wonderful cake and great food. There is no social contract or bond stronger than that made with neighbours over celebration and a feast.

This process of creating boulevard gardens through “Dig-In” parties with recycled greenwaste compost soil being donated by the City was repeated several times. Streets were closed off during this process to allow children to skip to and from each of the project gardens. While official looking barriers were corralled for the street closures, neighbours often used their barbeques and picnic tables as the barriers, having them handy for the eventual gourmet community lunch and celebration.

As Peter noted, gardening was a common language for Windsor Street and people with linguistic barriers enthusiastically gardened. An artist located intriguing pottery conch shells in his boulevard garden. Lavender, low growing roses, papavers and stepping stones took on a rhythm along the length of the street.

Within a two year time period, over 50 boulevard gardens appeared on the street, and residents started to actively stroll and enjoy the street in a new way. Windsor Street had always connected four parks and three schools, but it did not have the scale, rhythm, or visual interest to attract residents. The simple act of creating the boulevard gardens had completely changed the nature of the street, and how it was perceived by residents.

As a demonstration project, posted signs indicated that the gardens were the creation of the local residents, and asked that the gardens be respected. I also included my contact telephone number so that any inquiries or problems regarding the gardens could be immediately answered.

Even the prostitutes moved off Windsor Street. When asked, they indicated that the gardens and the increased use of the street by walkers made the street too personal, and was not conducive to their business.

IMG_6435As Windsor Street matured as a neighbourly place, community public art and a potential designation as a bikeway was considered. Coming full circle, Windsor Street was becoming known as Windsor Way for its visual gardening and community place making.

Part Three describes how Windsor Way became the cornerstone for Blooming Boulevards policy throughout the City, and how a cohesive public art project knit the community together. The eventual designation of Windsor Way bikeway achieved what the earlier CityPlan concepts could not-creating a greenway for the community at low cost with sweat equity and enthusiasm.