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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 10 | Nov. 4, 2004

A Vision for a Community Schoolyard

UBC’s Community Studio helps transform a Vancouver neighbourhood

By Michelle Cook

Tom Beasley was playing ball with his son Alex in the yard of his neighbourhood school when he first noticed it. Although the day was beautiful and sunny, the grounds of Sir John Franklin Elementary School were deserted.

“Looking around at the crushed gravel yard, the asphalt parking lot, the old playground equipment, the pre-school housed in a temporary structure and the chain link fence that was keeping people out instead of inviting them in, I asked myself, ‘would I be coming here if I were a kid, a senior, an adult?’” says Beasley, a lawyer and parent of two students at the school, Alex, 10, and Fred, eight.

That’s when Beasley had a vision.

“The images that came to my mind were of seniors strolling, and people and students using a multi-purpose, engaging and inspiring space,” says Beasley.

He organized a committee of parents, teachers, students and community members, with the goal of better integrating the school and school grounds, located in east Vancouver, into the surrounding neighbourhood. But to transform their vision into reality, the group needed help. They found it at UBC in the form of a new student-led design outreach initiative called Community Studio.

Involving more than 20 Landscape Architecture graduate (MLA) students, Community Studio provides planning and design assistance services to non-profit organizations that otherwise couldn’t afford it.

It was launched last year in response to numerous requests for assistance that the MLA program was getting from non-profit groups like the Franklin School committee. But its genesis was the students’ desire to use their design and planning training to make a difference in the community.

“It’s definitely part of the culture of our program,” says David Hohenschau, a third-year MLA student and the Studio’s founder. “Students want to work in the community and gain hands-on experience. Our group creates a cooperative context that supports both the students’ interests and the community’s initiatives.”

The initiative matches teams of students and mentoring professionals with community groups to offer design services for community projects such as schoolyards and community gardens. Services include site-specific design workshops and concept design development.

For the Franklin School project, six members of Community Studio armed with maps, sketchbooks and coloured pencils led a group of two dozen community members aged 10 to 86 through a design visioning workshop (called a charrette) in June 2004.

Out of a chorus of voices offering different ideas, opinions and concerns, the students were able to capture the group’s collective imagination about the space. Their dreams included a central entrance plaza, bocce pits, a waterfall, a children’s adventure island and more green space.

“The students were able to take our jumble of words and vision statements and turn them into a proper working document with terms of reference,” Beasley says. “They gave us a focused product out of our ramblings.”

The Franklin School group now has “something concrete to refer to and build community and funding support with,” says Hohenschau.

“There are professionals who do public process work. Our work is for the organization with little or no funding that’s just starting to address an issue they see in their community.

“We can help them get as far as knowing what they want, knowing the questions they need to ask and, hopefully, using the drawings and energy the workshop produces to build support, raise funds and hire a professional to complete the work.”

Other initiatives the Studio undertook in its first year include a community garden design workshop involving youth gardeners from the Environmental Youth Alliance, and a public art project at the UBC Farm.

Patrick Condon is the professor in the landscape architecture program who initially put the Franklin School group in touch with Studio members. He says there is “unlimited demand” for the services the Studio offers.

“Community groups are increasingly struggling with design issues in their neighoburhoods,” Condon says, adding that the initiative is unique because it is the first time MLA students have organized themselves outside their required curriculum work.

Condon says faculty members discussed ways they could assist and support the group, “but we felt it was better for them and better all around that they had the opportunity to fly with their own wings.”

The Environmental Youth Alliance project has been shortlisted in an international student design competition taking place in Scotland this week.

The UBC Community Studio’s concept drawings for the Franklin School Project will be presented at the first Annual Franklin Community Networking Fair taking place at the school (250 S. Skeena St.) on Nov. 9 from 5:45 - 8:00 p.m.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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