“So what is it about Vancouver that everyone is talking about?” my father had asked me on his first visit here back in 2009.
Today I’ve asked a friend who moved back from Toronto what it is that she would “import” from there to Vancouver. Her response was pretty quick: “Culture”. As I was about to continue from our short catch up to an event at the Roundhouse, my father’s question came back to me with an interesting twist. “Artists Walking Home (AWH) is a multi-year collaborative project between artist Catherine Pulkinghorn and 221A Artist Run Centre that invites public participants to discourse and learn about the complex historical and social conditions of Vancouver through the embodied experiences of the city’s cultural producers” (from their website).
Vancouver is a small and young city. This was evident when I had moved here from Israel in 2002 and it still is true these days even with the rapid growth we’re experiencing throughout the region. In many ways this fact can be frustrating to someone who’s been around the world and got used to places that have a formidable history and a vibrant present. On the other hand Vancouver is not a baby and the processes it is going through make this a fascinating time to be part of the change, growth and development.
In one of the AWH gatherings I noticed my daughter and other adults looking at the map of Vancouver trying to orient themselves. It suddenly occurred to me that a map is like a face. As soon as you familiarize yourself with it you can make a distinction between its features. If you like a city, you can smile at the site of a familiar street. If you’ve had a bad experience anywhere you might cringe at the sight of its location on the map, just like you might when you look at the mirror and muse over a scar on your own face.
The workshops facilitated by Catherine and her team provided lots of room for thought and discussion. They all included walks along the blocks of Yaletown surrounding the Roundhouse. In trying to understand the built environment such walks are an indispensable way of looking at the past in order to understand what the future can look like. Yaletown as a neighborhood is a result of a concentrated planning process. A lot of its success is being studied around the world. Nevertheless, there’s always something to learn from the challenges of a success story. Some of the challenges existed in the development process. Some of them have stayed or were realized only now, when the structures are already in place.
Vancouver as a whole is making impressive efforts in a variety of neighborhoods to expand, improve and redevelop. Our participation in the AWH workshops was a great way of experiencing and being part of the building of our own city, our home.