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Creating a ‘green lung’ in the heart of the city: Oaklands residents are working to create a pedestrian-first neighbourhood

Funding for several placemaking projects have come from the City of Victoria’s My Great Neighbourhood Grant program, which is currently accepting applications

By Emily Vance
September 23, 2022
Neighbourhoods
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Creating a ‘green lung’ in the heart of the city: Oaklands residents are working to create a pedestrian-first neighbourhood

Funding for several placemaking projects have come from the City of Victoria’s My Great Neighbourhood Grant program, which is currently accepting applications

By Emily Vance
Sep 23, 2022
A reader lounges on one of three newly installed Garry Oak benches on Kings Road in Oaklands Rise. Photo: Emily Vance / Capital Daily
A reader lounges on one of three newly installed Garry Oak benches on Kings Road in Oaklands Rise. Photo: Emily Vance / Capital Daily
Neighbourhoods
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Creating a ‘green lung’ in the heart of the city: Oaklands residents are working to create a pedestrian-first neighbourhood

Funding for several placemaking projects have come from the City of Victoria’s My Great Neighbourhood Grant program, which is currently accepting applications

By Emily Vance
September 23, 2022
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Creating a ‘green lung’ in the heart of the city: Oaklands residents are working to create a pedestrian-first neighbourhood
A reader lounges on one of three newly installed Garry Oak benches on Kings Road in Oaklands Rise. Photo: Emily Vance / Capital Daily

Capital Daily good news coverage is supported by Gustavson School of Business, but the stories and journalism are produced independently by Capital Daily. Per our policy, Gustavson School of Business has no editorial input into this story.

A group of Victoria residents are on a mission to make the streets of their neighbourhood a more enjoyable, safer place to be. Called the Oaklands Rise Woonerf, after a Dutch urban planning concept, the group’s motto for the neighbourhood is “a people priority place of community.” Funding for several of the projects have come from the City of Victoria’s My Great Neighbourhood Grants program, which provides funding for placemaking projects throughout the city. The grant program is accepting applications for funding until Oct. 31.

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A group of Victoria residents are on a mission to make the streets of their neighbourhood a more enjoyable, safer place to be. Called the Oaklands Rise Woonerf, after a Dutch urban planning concept, the group’s motto for the neighbourhood is “a people priority place of community.” Funding for several of the projects have come from the City of Victoria’s My Great Neighbourhood Grants program, which provides funding for placemaking projects throughout the city. The grant program is accepting applications for funding until Oct. 31.

The Woonerf concept is simple: a living street that emphasises walkability and greenspace, and that by design calms traffic and limits vehicle speed. The Oaklands Rise Woonerf runs along Kings Road from Cook Street to Victoria Street, with some street art extending along Mt. Stephen Avenue.

John James O’Brien and Robert Tornack are two of the founders and leaders of the project. Both are residents of Victoria’s Oaklands neighbourhood. The group has worked with the City of Victoria since 2017 to install road-calming infrastructure like painted planters, commissioned a wide variety of street art, and are planning to install more street murals.

“The idea being that wherever you are in the area, you'll have a sense that you're in this special place,” O’Brien said.

Oaklands neighbourhood pet portraits by local artist Robin Drader on the corner of Capital Heights and Kings Road. Photo: Emily Vance / Capital Daily

O’Brien said that he often hears from people who come from other neighbourhoods to enjoy the greenspace on the street. Oaklands Rise is also situated near the Cridge Centre for the Family, which has a seniors’ home. O’Brien said he has noted more seniors coming through the neighbourhood to sit on the benches.

“It's really enhanced that sense of multigenerational connection in the community, which is really nice,” O’Brien said.

The group has attempted to build neighbourhood support and foster engagement in a variety of ways. In 2018, they put out a resident feedback survey, and hosted a number of street parties to get neighbours talking together. Now, their mailing list has about 240 households. 

“It's very much a grassroots volunteer initiative,” O’Brien said. “We want this to be very much something that comes out of the community.”

The group has also been working with students from UVic, with the intent of creating plant corridors that encourage pollinators and emphasise native plants. During the pandemic, they hosted 20 permaculture students to assess the neighbourhood’s environment, including drainage, soil, wind, shade, and sun. O’Brien hopes that the area can become what he calls a “green lung” in the heart of the city.

It hasn’t all been easy and positive–both O’Brien and Tornack noted that at times, they’ve clashed with city staff over their ideas about traffic calming measures on the streetscape.

“What we're doing is totally counterintuitive in North America. We really have devised our urban planning methodologies and our road traffic methodologies all around the idea of the vehicle.” O’Brien said.

They’re quick to note, however, that the city has overall been supportive of the initiative. They've worked with city staff over the years to install the painted planters, and they've recently been awarded a My Great Neighbourhood Grant to paint a mandala mural. The grant program looks to approve projects that create more connected neighbourhoods, and empower residents to shape their communities the way they believe will serve it best. 

A number of Oaklands neighbours have become involved in the streetscape beautification, including Rosemary Sleigh. Sleigh is the originator of the Oaklands Rise Bench Project, which saw three benches installed along Kings Road in early August. The benches were crafted by Daniel Ouimet, using wood from Garry Oaks that had blown down in a storm. The benches support and enhance the overall concept of the Woonerf.

Gary Pemberton, the city’s neighbourhood advisor for Oaklands, was part of approving funding for the Garry Oak benches. From a placemaking and community building perspective, Pemberton calls the benches a “slam dunk” of a project.

“We're already having reports of how much the neighbourhood loves them and how they're bringing the community together,” Pemberton said. “That's kind of the whole point of the project, when you can put something into the hardscape of a neighbourhood and make it better.”

The most recent round of My Great Neighbourhood Grants is open for applications until Oct. 31. Grants of up to $5,000 are available for placemaking projects, and grants of up to $1,000 are available for community building activities. A total of $131,330 of funding is available for this year. 

Pemberton encourages anyone who is interested to apply. In order to be approved, applicants have to match the funding through a combination of volunteer time and in-kind donations, and have the support of a local nonprofit organisation.

“Never underestimate the power [that] … one resident can have a great impact on their neighbourhood in a positive way, with a great idea. And this grant program offers them the opportunity to expand on that and make it a reality,” Pemberton said.

Correction on Sept. 23 at 5pm: An earlier version of this story omitted Rosemary Sleigh's involvement in the bench project.

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