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Dig Your Neighborhood: Reimagining the Welcome Wagon

Ever wonder how your street got its name? What was on the land before your house was built? What mysteries and histories lie beneath the surface of the parking lot, the coffee shop, the bicycle trails, and the convenience store?
When you move into a new home, what information do you receive about the neighborhood? You might be given coupons to local businesses, or maps that direct you to nearby shopping centers or tourist attractions, but the shadow geography—the really interesting stuff—remains a mystery.
I've been working with creative writing and visual arts students at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, in the city of Kelowna, as they have spent the past year pondering some of these questions. First they chose a specific neighbourhood, Kelowna’s historic North End, to research and explore. Then students consulted museum archives, interviewed residents, and took photographs throughout the year.
The product of their efforts and inquiries is Dig Your Neighborhood, a package of art and activities based on a specific geographical and cultural space. Dig Your Neighborhood seeks to introduce residents to the cultural and environmental past, present, and future of their neighborhood; it hopes to creatively connect people to their places of residence, in interesting and interactive ways.

Dig Your Neighborhood includes a calendar that proposes a North End neighborhood-specific color palette, a board game that features local landmarks and trivia questions, and a CD of music and soundscapes recorded in and inspired by the neighborhood. There is a children’s activity book with information and games based on local flora and fauna, and a collection of postcards made from close-up photographs of the neighbourhood park. There is fictional writing that imagines an alternate archival past, and there is poetry that documents, celebrates, and laments beloved local trees. And more.
This pilot project has already taken off in several directions. In the fall semester, another course will be taught based specifically on this model, focusing on a different neighborhood to create a similar package of art. Next year, the local Welcome Wagon will distribute D.Y.N. packages—along with their usual basket of coupons and gifts from local businesses—to new residents of the North End.
Dig Your Neighborhood is the brainchild of UBC creative writing professor Nancy Holmes along with her colleagues, research assistants, and students. It is also one facet of the Eco Art Incubator, a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council)-funded research initiative at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus. The Eco Art Incubator provides a platform for students and artists to work, as well as access to artist-friendly resources for conservation and ecological initiatives.

Hang out with your neighbors on the last Saturday of April (a day we're calling "Neighborday"). Click here to say you'll Do It, and here to download GOOD's Neighborday Toolkit and a bunch of other fun stuff.

Original neighborhood image via Shutterstock; Dig Your Neighborhood student photo courtesy of University of British Columbia.

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