Building a Gardened City

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

You’d be forgiven for thinking we’re crazy.

You’d be forgiven for wondering how a group of Vancouver residents think they’re going to develop their own neighbourhood according to their own specs. It’s a lot of work, and that’s why we have developers.

And yet, in the face of declining natural resources, sprawling cities and our increased reliance on oil, why would we not try to reduce our footprint? Why would we not attempt to reduce the amount of stuff we need to own? Why would we not try to create a gardened community with a stream running through it, a neighbourhood conducive to face-to-face interaction for a change?

In short, why wouldn’t we create a neighbourhood that makes sense for people, not simply a developer’s bottom line?

In recent years, a lot has been made about Ray Oldenburg’s “The Great Good Place” and the work of Jane Jacobs and James Howard Kunstler. They’ve pushed us to discuss the importance of creating “Third Places” in our communities and neighbourhoods with eyes on the street. We’ve begun to advocate for more gathering nodes within our communities to foster connection and relationship and neighbourliness.

We’ve come to recognise the need for a new urbanism.

Some folks in the church are pushing this further by reclaiming the notion of parish in their understanding of their mission. How do we become intentional about living in our place? Of respecting God’s creation? Of living amongst a diversity of people?

All of these things are important, and yet I’ve often felt that one part of the challenge is that so many of our neighbourhoods just don’t make sense. We’ve built anonymous streets and towers that prevent us from getting to know one another, when what we need is to return to a more walkable, livable, neighbourly way of being.

Decenter the car, and make way for the pedestrian.

And so, it only seemed right to start working on this problem. Together with a number of other Vancouver residents, Ericka and I have begun working towards building just such a neighbourhood. Over the past months, we’ve gathered together with an architect to suss out our community’s values, to dream up activities, and to create places for these activities to happen.

We’ve gathered to create a site plan that makes sense for the kind of interaction and values we hold. We’ve gathered to come to know one another, all future neighbours who desire to live more lightly on the earth, to share resources, and to explore new ways of developing for community in a city made so anonymous by numerous factors, including the 160 days of rain we receive each year.

This is a hopeful vision. The idea that we can work together with neighbours to nurture young families and make aging in place more possible is compelling. The idea that we can plan for and build a multigenerational community is a breath of fresh air.

The notion that in a hyper-individualistic culture there are 25 households committed to this vision is encouraging.

Are there people who think we’re crazy? Absolutely. Yet in the face of those questioning glances, I can’t imagine a better way to live.

For more information on our project, visit or check it out on facebook.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

6 Responses to “Building a Gardened City”

  1. Deborah

    That is such a fabulous idea — I will pray for it to bear fruit! I’ve made a prayer sticky note for my computer desk, to join all the others that I try to pray for every day.

  2. andrew

    Thanks, Deborah! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress!

  3. Vivian

    I don’t think you’re crazy! I think that you’ll loe every second of it. My husband and I moved into Groundswell Cohousing at Yarrow ecovillage six months ago and it is the best thing we ever did! Enjoy it! The process of building it is half the fun!

    • andrew

      Vivian – That’s so great. We’ve not visited Yarrow yet, but have been to Windsong as well, and are loving the process. How’d you find this blog?

      • Vivian

        I run a “google alerts” for the word cohousing. Best way to keep track of what else is happening!
        Is that Chuck’s Site plan blocks?

  4. andrew

    You better believe it! We’re finishing up our site design workshop this evening with some tweaks on this design…sweet!


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