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Josh and Mike’s story of ThisSpace.Ca is a testament to good ideas and making them happen.
Josh and his wife live in the neighborhood that intersects Strathcona & Chinatown in Vancouver, Canada. They run a women’s clothing store along Union Street, with their apartment just above this space. With this motivation, they were invested in those who were to occupy this block with their work and home squarely planted on it.
Mike, after experiencing the twists and turns of a well-traveled job but seeking more meaning in the next step, came back to his home town and bought up a piece of retail property along Union Street to start up a business. Inspired by a conversation with family and friends over dinner, Josh presented to Mike the idea of asking the community what they wanted to do with the space instead of erecting a business and hoping for its success.
They created both a physical and online space for participation by the community. Through their website, people could weigh in their vote on various decisions – from what business was of most interest to serve the needs of the community to the selection of the graphic designer via portfolio review – via a series of polls. While the space was beginning to form in the offline space, the physical space on Union street was occupied by a ping-pong table and chairs. A great method to make the reality of a new future for this space real, both tangible and visible.
In a little under 10 months, the idea went from a conversation to a living, breathing cafe. I entered into the space just a few weeks after it had opened. Attracted to a well-design facade – inviting chairs, flowers, and sign that beckoned entry. Inside, was an open counter space where salads and sandwiches were being prepared. Being a typical cloudy Vancouver day, the warmth of the food drew me in and made the small but inviting interior all the more a pleasure to be in. The register consisted of a friendly employee who rung up orders on an iPad and a well-designed user interface. At the community’s request, a wall along the side of the cafe was stocked with basic, yet fresh and local, groceries to help with those post-work and pre-dinner needs. Mike remarked how the cafe brought people in for mid-day lunch while the groceries helped keep the foot traffic before and after. As for the park across the street, that use to be grounds for drug trafficking, it was destined to become a place for picnics in the warmer months. Mike and Josh laughingly put forth the idea of making a stopping sign for traffic – as this destination was in the middle of the block – appropriately designed with a graphic with a person running across the street with a hot chasu bao (chinese BBQ pork bun) in hand.
ThisSpace.Ca is more than just a local cafe called Harvest – it is an approach in engaging a community in designing a business, that is powerful as a brand and as a space.
How can we re-think how to open up the design of our neighborhoods so that the community can engage more directly in creating the built environments, business and social activities that give neighborhoods their unique vibrance and definition?
**Thanks to Emily Ma, for introducing me to these guys and this wonderful space.