Walks allow participants to see the strengths and possibilities in our neighbourhoods.
Walk participant Janis Irwin (front) takes a selfie with the group. Leader Keren Tang is behind her, in the red shirt. Janis Irwin
Residents, families, and business owners took to the streets on April 28 to better understand their neighbourhoods of Boyle Street and McCauley. This is part of RECOVER, an urban wellness initiative that takes a social innovation approach to understand and test out small solutions in Edmonton’s five core neighbourhoods: Boyle Street, McCauley, Downtown, Queen Mary Park, and Central McDougall. RECOVER has been well underway since last fall, involving government, agency, business, and community partners. The wellness walks in each of the five core neighbourhoods are one of the ways this project has engaged those who live, work, and play in the community.
In small group discussions since February, residents identified places of significance in these neighbourhoods that either positively or negatively affect their wellness. These locations, ranging from a street corner to landmarks such as the McCauley community garden or the Free Wall along the LRT bike/pedestrian path, informed the walking routes. Participants set out on a beautiful Saturday on foot or bike in small groups, stopping at places of interest and engaging in conversations about possibilities.
The conversations focused on these four questions:
1. In what way does this site/spot/building contribute to or undermine the wellness of our community?
2. How does this site/spot/building make you feel?
3. I specifically love this site/spot/building because…
4. I wish this site/spot/building had…
As a member of the RECOVER project team, I greeted one of the groups during the morning walks in Boyle Street, at the Great Western Garment building (the former Army and Navy building) on the corner of 97 Street and 103 Avenue. This building is part of a walking route and also the site for one of the small solutions being tested: activating empty storefronts in the core with public art created by community artists from the neighbourhood. You can learn more about this initiative here: transformingedmonton.ca/making-space-for-a-culture-shift
After a delicious lunch back at Boyle Street Plaza prepared by ethnocultural caterers including Equi-Tea with the Multicultural Health Brokers, we set out to explore McCauley. I led one of the walking groups, passing through Mary Burlie Park, Chinatown, stopping at the Living Bridge, Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Free Wall, and McCauley Community Garden. Not only did we engage in a conversation about what more we can do at each location to build up the community, we also chatted with those enjoying the sun at Mary Burlie Park and graffiti artists at the Free Wall about what they would have liked to see.
Change starts from understanding the perspective of those who use the space. By taking an evidence-based, collaborative approach, this project has certainly changed how we do business and test out ideas from the community. For more information, please visit www.edmonton.ca/UrbanWellness.
Keren Tang spends a lot of time in McCauley and Boyle Street with the intercultural community. Currently, she is the project manager of RECOVER with the City of Edmonton.