Students, Park Board Create Buzz at Vancouver Pop-Up Park

Alex Man-Bourdon, project coordinator for the Fifth and Pine pop-up park, shares his experience working with students through CityStudio to advance the City’s strategies and draw its tiniest residents back to the neighbourhood.

When neighbours around Fifth Avenue and Pine Street perked up at the idea of a pollinator theme for their new pop-up park, Alexandre Man-Bourdon, project coordinator and landscape architect with the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, knew he had the opportunity to not only advance a number of city goals and strategies, but produce something positive and tangible for the community.

His desire to work with students to design and build several pollinator homes for the park led Alex to CityStudio Vancouver and Blair Satterfield’s class at the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. CityStudio has been coordinating city-student collaborations like the pollinator project since its launch in 2011 with the aim of advancing municipal goals and making Vancouver more sustainable, liveable and joyful.

Over the course of a semester, students worked directly with Alex and biologist, Nick Page, to design unique pollinator housing for mason bees, mining bees and bats using sustainable materials. The following semester students Stuart Lodge and Sebastien Roy picked up the project and not only built three functioning pollinator homes, but also the tools to create them over the course of the spring and summer for installation at the park.

We caught up with Alex this past summer at the completed Fifth and Pine pop-up park, putting the finishing touches on the pollinator homes in their new…well, home. Below are his thoughts on the experience and how working with CityStudio created the ideal kind of partnership.

What was your official role in the project?

I was the project coordinator and designer for the Fifth and Pine pop-up park. Essentially everything that needed to be designed or coordinated to complete the project fell under my umbrella.

How did you get involved with CityStudio?

During the engagement phase of the project the pollinator theme emerged and the community really latched onto it. I thought we had a great opportunity to advance several of our Park Board and City of Vancouver strategies by adding pollinator housing to the project.

I considered trying to connect with high school or middle school students to develop the project but thought post-secondary students might be better at thinking outside the box and developing a higher quality final product.

I knew that CityStudio connected [City staff] with the universities so I got in touch with the team and after a few conversations to frame the project, Blair Satterfield’s studio said they were interested in the project.

What did the process involve for you?

At the start of the semester, Nick Page, our staff biologist, and I gave a presentation to the class at UBC. I focused on some of the park design themes like the re-use of materials. Nick provided background on the types of pollinators we were hoping to attract and some design considerations for our intended populations.

We met the class again a few months later to review the projects as they neared completion and to provide our feedback on the designs. We were delighted by the level of complexity, diversity and quality of the designs the students had developed.

The last effort on my part was coordinating the install of the bat house on the building and the install of the signage and housing in the gardens.

How would you describe your experience working with students and CityStudio?

I wasn’t really sure what the final outcome of the project would be. I was hoping that we would have a physical manifestation of our efforts to show in the park; not just a design, but the addition of another dimension to the park. I am thrilled that the project could be seen through to completion so that we have these really interesting objects in the park that carry the story forward for us.

I know that often CityStudio [projects] are conceptual, so I am glad CityStudio was supportive of trying to take this project further. Overall, CityStudio created and supported exactly the kind of partnership I was hoping for.

Did anything about the experience surprise you?

I guess I’m a little bit surprised everything worked out so well; not because of a lack of confidence in CityStudio or the SALA students, but because coordination of a project like this can be difficult and doesn’t always work out.

I was happy to let this project just be a design exercise for the students, but I was always hoping it would come together like it did.

Would you work with CityStudio again?

I absolutely would. I am always looking for ways to involve more people and parties in the design and creation of our parks.

Your turn! We invite City of Vancouver staff to reach out to Ileana Costrut, CityStudio’s projects coordinator, to learn more about working with post-secondary students on city projects.