A Cold Way to Build Warm Community

Recently I ran into one of my neighbours, Bonnie, and we started talking about the Olympics, the building, and our neighbourhood. Then she brought up the crazy snow sculpture Hayley and I made during the last big snowfall, and how that unique piece just sitting there out front by the sidewalk managed to engage every single person that walked by. She was so captivated by it, feeling it was an opera singer, whereas another neighbour who also saw it told her she was sure it was a mermaid.

Hayley and I set out to make a snow lady just for something to do, and as apartment dwellers with no access to any “front yard” we simply started building in front of our building, next to the sidewalk. By the time we got the main shape we started to notice passerby’s weren’t merely passing by anymore. Men were casting lusty looks, or even better, hitting on her through us as proxy. “Man, I’d take her out any time”

I’d reply “Yes she’s a tall drink of water,” and we’d laugh, There was laughter.

Men and women, young and old, would stop to comment and ask why we were making it (we just wanted to make something different!) It was a memory of a neighbourhood awoken in people now simply living in a sprawling city. It was funny, artful, strange, different, and above all fleeting.

Snow in Vancouver is cherished. It is highly inconvenient, yes, but it is cherished. It is our pass into the fraternity of Canadian winters, even if it is badly forged, and the fun we can have with it is limited only and inevitably by time. Soon it will be gone. But while it stood, it was a lightening rod for conversation and its playful nature encouraged peoples’ curiosity. Bonnie suggested that a webcam left behind would have captured some pretty hilarious footage of people’s interactions with it

I’m thinking about this experience and trying to imagine building it into something that
serves the community, perhaps a project to create temporary snow art installations at various locations around the city? If a partnership could be reached with some local hockey rinks, the snow consistently generated by the zambonis could be an excellent and continued source of snow for a project like this, especially since its essentially just left outside as standard practice. Pieces could be constructed in proximity to or in partnership with elementary or secondary schools, seniors centres, artists, community groups, or merely as spontaneous gifts for different neighbourhoods.

This is my thought today, an idea born of a conversation with a neighbour.

By Nick Janzen, Building Caring Communities, Vancouver, BC

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