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The 501 bulding, at Richards and Pacific in Yaletown, is a typical downtown high rise comprised of a townhouse complex and tower. There are 450 residents, both owners and renters. Highrise living has its many perks in Vancouver, but it is also widely recognized that community building in highrises faces many unique challenges. Residents often remark that it’s difficult to meet neighbours in such a large complex, and as most of these interactions are in the elevator, they are often brief and even awkward.
However, it’s not to say that The 501 residents aren’t open and eager to meeting fellow residents. Over the past six months, some wonderful connections have developed at The 501, built upon a common desire to cultivate a sense of community in the building. The 501 Social Group was born out of this – a monthly meetup that features affordable and local activities for The 501 residents. Meetups have included ‘cheesecake and a stroll’, fondue night, boardgame night, walks along the seawall, and a visit to a local pub. A broad range of activities are selected so as to cater to the wide range of cultures and ages found in the building.
Despite efforts to promote The 501 social events in the building mailroom, the social group failed to grow beyond its five core members. Having no budget for our social group and promotions, we thought it would be a idea to apply for a Neighbourhood Small Grant. Our hope was to use the grant to promote community spirit in the building – to help strangers become more neighbourly.
After brainstorming with The 501 Building Manager, the idea of a summer barbecue and FIFA World Cup event emerged. All agreed that the FIFA World Cup was an event theme that could appeal to a wide range of residents. As soon as we heard the good news that we were awarded the grant money, we got to work. A neighbour in The 501 designed a promotional poster that asked residents to put a pin on their favourite soccer team. Fifty pins dotted the poster within a week’s time. We gained the approval and support of the Building Strata Council and approached local grocers for in-kind donations.
We received generous food donations from both Nesters and Urban Fare in Yaletown, and with the grant money we printed posters, purchased food items and a keg, and rented equipment to project the final FIFA World Cup game on a big screen. The majority of equipment needed for the event – projector, barbecue, tent – were borrowed from friends or places of work.
On July 13th, we set up the projector and screen in The 501 Games Room, and set up a barbecue stand in the building courtyard. Approximately 40 residents participated in the event, five of which consisted of volunteers from The 501 Social Group. A good mix of residents attended – several couples, a couple of families with children, and both long-term and newer residents alike. It was a great opportunity to promote both the social group and the Neighbourhood Small Grant program. Many people joined The 501 Social Facebook group on the spot. After the game finished, many of the participants went together to The 501 pool. Many connections were made that day – emails exchanged, and future plans for building get-togethers were discussed.
The event was considered a success by all. The common areas in The 501 were transformed that day. Areas that are typically quiet and little used became vibrant and buzzing shared community spaces. We are so grateful to the Vancouver Foundation and Gordon Neighbourhood House for providing the opportunity to host a building event and witness what a positive impact we can make in our community.
We recognize now that there is a strong need to create more welcoming and inclusive building events to create opportunities for neighbourly connection. Choosing themes that appeal to a wide audience, that are intergenerational and family-friendly, is key. Though cultivating community in a highrise is challenging at times, we know the rewards are great.