There has been a lot of news lately about the sense of loneliness and isolation that many people experience in Vancouver, as a result of Vancouver Foundation research into that subject.
Even though I was one of those interviewed by the foundation and even though I listed that as my number one concern, I was surprised to find out it was shared by so many others. I thought my sense of disconnection was mostly my fault — my life was too busy for hanging around and connecting with neighbours; I had always chosen very heterogenous neighbourhoods to live in, where it was sometimes hard to connect because of language barriers; etc.
But it turns out it was not just me.
There is a lot of thinking to do about how to overcome some of the barriers that Vancouver has to connecting, but, since I was interviewed, I have been privileged to witness little explosions of community in my vicinity.
Quite independently of each other, several little groups of people have done things to help foster conversations and a sense of neighbourliness in the blocks near my house.
One group of young people constructed a small set of shelves with an overhang to create a little free-store library, where people drop off or pick up books. It has become one of the pleasurable aspects of the neighbourhood. Almost every time we walk by, there are people pondering the books, often murmuring to each other about interesting finds. (The idea has been such a hit that Global TV did a little segment on it last week and people as random as a contractor visiting my house wanted to offer to build similar small libraries for anyone who wanted them around the city, for groups that provided the materials.)
Another household a block away has put out a coffee machine on its boulevard, offering free coffee to the thousands of cyclists that pass by on the bike route.
Still another group has turned the roundabout into a tea-party site (of the old-fashioned kind, not the anti-tax, anti-Obama kind) where there is often a small cluster of people sitting at a small table talking over cups of whatever. The group has also replanted the circle. Up the street, another family has taken over and is maintaining another circle a block away.
They are such small projects but have generated huge interest and a sense of warmth in the neighbourhood. It makes me wonder what else is going on in other neighbourhoods — I am sure more than we realize — and what could happen.
I would love to hear other ideas about small ways to create community in Vancouver.
Two of my own: Bring back dumpsters to the city Keep Vancouver Spectacular days. I know that in my neighbourhood, that was an extremely popular event that managed to transcend the language barriers and brought everyone together to clean junk out of the alleys, as well as share cakes donated by the local bakery.
Another: Communal dinners. I wrote a magazine article in Western Living last year about the communal dinners that many Seattle restaurants offer, where once a month or so, the restaurant offers a set menu and family-style seating with groups of six to 12 people seated together. I have been to several and it has been a great way to meet people — in Seattle. Now if I could only find the same in Vancouver.