Year: 2015
Lead Planner: Nick Strauss
Client: VanCity

As a community-based banking institution, VanCity has always been deeply invested in the health of its local constituencies, whether local businesses and Business Improvement Associations, schools, community centres and other local associations, not to mention local residents. As such, it is crucial for VanCity to anticipate the changing nature of Vancouver neighborhoods in response to economic development, changes to the housing market and urban development, as well as immigration and demographic evolution.

In Marpole, the local branch of VanCity was keenly aware that its surrounding neighbourhood was facing a number of issues that seemed to be limiting its growth. They wanted to understand how to re-ignite business development and how to better serve its public. They needed advice from someone with a deep understanding of local residents, with insights into how to engage its community.

For several years, chART Projects had been conducting an innovative long-term public art project in Marpole, resulting in more than 20 different public art interventions throughout the area. With such long-standing community engagement, Cameron Cartiere and her team were recognized as valuable partners to the local BIA, who recommended they advise VanCity.

Bringing together local business leaders, members of VanCity’s business development team, as well as local experts and activists, chART ran a series of focus group sessions. The outcome of these sessions was twofold:

Atomized constituencies isolated by language and culture, geographic isolation created by challenging street design and traffic patterns, an eroding center as community “magnets” such as public libraries, coffee shops and community centres were fading, and a poorly defined brand, all these factors were increasingly turning Marpole into a neighbourhood that people were driving through, rather than walking to.

Secondly, chART helped the Marpole team create an ambitious vision of Marpole’s best self as a city brand, to identify its priorities, and to develop strategies for realizing that vision: First, Marpole would reignite city pride and social cohesion by using public art to weave its multiple constituencies together. Then, a community development plan would be initiated in order to make Marpole a stronger, more cohesive environment. Lastly, community engagement would be used to attract foot traffic back to Marpole’s main commercial centre, redefining the heart of the city and making people want to stop there, not just drive through there in the way to and from YVR.

This transformation will take time and a coordinated effort to bear fruit. But every day, new initiatives are making an impact of the social landscape of Marpole, proving the point that public art can be a long term driver of community improvement.