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After the morning discussion, we broke into workshops to start the afternoon. I joined one called “Social Capitol and Neighbourhoods” at the Victoria Park gazebo hosted by Milton Friesen, who is completing a Ph.D. at the University Of  Waterloo School Of Planning.

gazebo meeting

Milton’s discussion centred on the research he is doing, including understanding how people move in their environment, and how this data can help us to appreciate how connected a community is and estimating social isolation in the community. Part of his research includes subjects being voluntarily tracked with a small GPS device (currently being invented by Milton) that would simply log their location every 15 seconds or so, for one week (the data would be entirely geospatial, without any personal information attached). In theory, with enough willing participants chosen by random sample in a community, the community could be “mapped” by seeing where people tend to congregate and when, how far they travel on average from home to work, etc.

I found his study very interesting, partially because it reminded me of research I worked on as part of my undergraduate degree, “Estimating Population: A Case Study”. The research I did (lead by my GIS professor Martin Healy) investigated how people can move through their environment in London, based on the case study of the outdoor pools across the city and how accessible they are to the local population around them. My study used paths (walkways, sidewalks, roads) in the GIS to estimate how people can access the pools, but this data would allow the researcher to see how people really move in their environment, and as more communities were studied, start to develop a stronger understanding of trends, and to be able to spot communities that are more or less connected. At least, in theory.

Very soon, we walked from the gazebo back to the pavilion to take one of the school buses to communities in Waterloo and Cambridge for our second walkabout. I chose to visit a community called “Lang’s Farm Village” and their village association, drawn to the prospect of talking to another community association and seeing what they’re doing. Not knowing what to expect, I found myself in a Cambridge community started in the late 60’s-early 70’s.

We were greeted by a harsh looking neighbourhood, and a very friendly community leader, Bill Davidson. Bill briefly told us the story of Lang’s, a community built on what had been farmland, replacing the arable soil with many brutalist high rise apartments and town house complexes. He described the community as one of big problems and big hearts, where social issues such as high drug use, pregnancy and school drop out rates are seen as opportunities. The community has pulled together against tough odds, and is flourishing.

He took us quickly through the community association building (what started as the unit of a townhouse, but soon spilled into an additional portable unit because of the need and the desire to work there), which has evolved into a youth and teen centre, which includes daycare and afterschool programs, cooking and fitness classes.

Langs Village Association

As we left the townhouse, Bill grinned and said, “we’re very proud of everything happening here…this isn’t what we brought you to see, though.” Some others from the group who were more familiar with the region seemed to guess where we were going, but I followed the group down the street, not knowing what was coming next.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I’d find as I turned the corner.

Bill beamed and welcomed us to Lang’s, the community health & wellness centre built in 2010. This project was a joint venture from all three levels of government, creating a regional centre, but built primarily for the immediate community of Lang’s Farm Village.

Langs entrance

At the front entrance is a map and list of all the community partners. In this one centre, the community has a multitude of different services, workshops and facilities available to them. Many of the speakers at the gathering had been talking about “breaking down walls” and “connecting communities”, but I hadn’t envisioned something quite like this.

The community was instrumental in every aspect of the centre, from pushing since the 80’s to have an integrated place where all needs of the community and region could be met, to consulting on the design and choosing who would occupy the space. This even includes the interview process – when selecting professionals that will work in the centre, the community is welcomed to meet the applicants and help choose the person they want serving them!

Langs community partners

This is the main space that greets visitors, with seating in front of floor-to-ceiling windows, a large reception/help area and entrance to various wings of the building.

Langs main area

Behind the reception area is a large gymnasium, with windows looking out into the reception area. Bill impressed on us that the centre works to support health and wellness in the community, from teaching fitness and recreation activities, supplying many different medical offices, to various forms of counselling and support.

View from gym

This is Bill telling us about all the medical offices in the building. Many of the practitioners in the centre are there on rotation from other offices, but they also have dedicated staff. Many of the people that have come through their doors have never been to a doctor or a dentist before, but now they see one regularly, as well as having access to specialized care such as chiropractic and massage therapy.

medical centre

The centre was built with many green features to keep the maintenance and energy costs down, including a green roof.

green roof

A mural above the gym was designed by the youth of the community, and created with them by a team of graphic designers working in the community that continue to mentor aspiring artists.

gym mural

After a whirlwind tour of the community centre, we were back on the bus to Kitchener. We were invited to return to the pavilion in the evening for lively line dancing. I lingered with a group of others from the conference over dinner and beer and ended up getting to the pavilion just as things were winding down…so we went over to the Victoria Park Boathouse instead. Not a bad way to end the day!

victoria park at night

Next post: Tamarack Day 3: Benefits of Organizing Neighbourhoods

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