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Hello Neighbour! The Welcome

One of my favourite projects for Railyard Lab this summer was “Hello, Neighbour.” It all started with the construction of a new social housing building owned and operated by PHS Community Services Society and BC Housing that will be called “Alexander Street Community,” which will home the hardest to house.

With the associated negative reaction in the business community, Dossier saw an opportunity to apply a design thinking lens to the situation. In the beginning stages of the project, we developed a collective vision of restoring community and seeing each other as neighbours. The Railyard team in collaboration with Dossier proceeded to host several brainstorm sessions to come up with a project idea that raises awareness, transfers knowledge and is engaging for both communities.

Personally, I have grown up in sheltered and safe environments with a supportive family and circle of friends—all the ingredients to achieve a successful lifestyle and career. I, like the majority of people in Vancouver, see homelessness as a disappointing problem; I feel uncomfortable walking around East Hastings and I find it hard to interact with Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) community members. This perception and attitude towards homelessness have encouraged gentrification of the DTES, which is defined as “a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values.” It is happening left, right and centre and is causing the displacement of long-time community residents. Many people think that gentrification is a good thing, that the neighbourhood is being “cleaned-up” and that “the city is becoming more livable.” This is a problem because for DTES community members, this is their home and they have nowhere else to go. By “cleaning up” the DTES, we are increasing property value, constraining the population even further and effectively taking away a population’s neighbourhood and therefore their livelihoods.

Railyard started this project with the hopes of benefiting both the residents of social housing and the business professionals of Railtown

It starts with understanding it and discovering everything you need to know about it, and that’s exactly what we did. We talked to various stakeholders before brainstorming project ideas including PHS and Union Gospel Mission (UGM).

Railyard started this project with the hopes of benefiting both the residents of social housing and the business professionals of Railtown, and bridging our two communities. This is a huge and daunting task that cannot be accomplished solely by four interns at a small Vancouver-based design studio. It requires support, guidance and commitment from both communities. We landed on “Hello, Neighbour”, which will provide all the residents of Alexander Street Community with a welcome package full of unique and special items. This package will kick-off what is planned to be an on-going platform that engages these two diverse communities. We see it as the apple pie you give the new neighbour moving into the house next door: the very first step at beginning a positive relationship.

Currently, our project is in its final stages with the residents expected to move into their new homes sometime in November. We have put together the final list of gifts to be included in the packaging and we’re putting all the packages together and actively recruiting volunteers for a meet-and-greet session with the residents.

My dream is that, one day, these two communities come together: that we say hello to our neighbours, stop for a conversation and we will take time to form a relationship. This will take time and it may never become a reality. Ultimately, that is why Railyard started small and we would thank everyone who has participated for their tremendous support.

Thanks for reading.