Semester in Dialogue launches “You Write We Listen”

emester in Dialogue students stand in front of their interactive installation.

On an overcast day, Semester in Dialogue took to the streets of Downtown Vancouver to launch its event “You Write We Listen” by Stadium-Chinatown: a one-day prototype to ask questions and engage with residents on creating a vibrant future for the Northeast False Creek redevelopment.

Topics include improving park space, reinvigorating the waterfront, and addressing Vancouver’s need to diversify its nighttime activities.

With the purpose of identifying and elevating the voices of community members, the cohort was comprised of 20 SFU and UBC students set out to directly inform their future work in the Northeast False Creek area.

Inspired by Candy Chang, the result consisted of several panels combined to make a snake-like art installation asking the city three questions regarding the best thing about the current space, imagining what the space could have, and asking people what is the most fun they’ve had for free.

Standing at eight feet tall and branching off in three octopus-like directions, the street corner was transformed by the structure, inviting residents to interact with the different aspects weaving around the space. There was room to answer each question, draw something, or simply jot down whatever came to mind.

“The biggest highlight for me was watching the project finally come to fruition. When I spotted the structure from the SkyTrain as I was coming in, I was totally blown away, it looked incredible,” said Kelly Furey, a senior communication student at SFU. “There was a big group of people surrounding the form and engaging with it. We cultivated a space where people could share the memories that they had, and share different thoughts and experiences.”

A large part of the experience was analyzing the process. Gauging how the site location, the questions, and the structure would affect the response from people passing by, was as important to find out as it was to get a response at all. “A lot of the conversations that I had with people on the ground were trying to convince them that their voice mattered and that they had an opportunity to write,” said Glenn Mendonsa, a UBC human geography student.

In the end, all three questions garnered 85–120 responses. The most common response regarded what people wanted to do and see in the city, with lots of answers revolving around family and friends, playing, going to parks, and hiking. Many people also chose to engage with the space alternatively, drawing or doodling or just writing random thoughts. Some people even wrote their own questions to reflect on.

One of the most crucial lessons Duane Elverum, one of the co-founders and directors at CityStudio, learned from the program is to “kill your darlings,” and not become too attached or caught up in one concept.

“You don’t get pushed enough in traditional university settings to do something to the best of your abilities and then kill it right away,” Mendonsa said. “That’s why it was so impactful when I saw it. It was living proof that despite coming to something you really truly believed in and then re-envisioning and prototyping it again and again that we are still able to tie it all together.”

Other students appreciated what it took to get to the point of the event, but found the end result the most gratifying. “You can get a little lost in the process and theoretical project, but when you put paint to paper and bring the boards into the studio and built a tangible thing it was a really cool moment for me,” said Sarah Duggan, a third-year international studies student at SFU.

Overall, the launch gave students skills they can use with their future larger projects, as they break off into smaller groups and address different themes within Northeast False Creek.

Kathleen Belton, an SFU environment major, feels positive moving forward. “There are all these impacts and things come out of it that you wouldn’t expect, and it was overall very effective with what the instructors hoped it would do for us.”

Alex is a member of the Fall 2016 Semester in Dialogue program cohort.

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