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Who is behind OurSquamish, and what are they up to?

Placemaking society works to improve spaces for all and requests feedback on what you want to see in public areas around town.

You have likely passed by one of their branded projects around town — a colourful bench or a conveniently placed patio set or bike rack — and wondered what OurSquamish was all about. 

A small group of locals launched OurSquamish Placemaking Society two years ago. The non-partisan, non-profit organization is dedicated to improving public spaces in town. Members work in collaboration with other organizations, bringing volunteers together to plan and build better public spaces.

"We saw that Squamish was changing, and we wanted to help steer that change to a more livable and sustainable place where public spaces are quite important," Cameron Cope, an OurSquamish director, told The Chief. 

Fellow OurSquamish director Constance Cope added that many people come to Squamish for its natural outdoor spaces, but our urban areas could use "a bit of help," she said.

The group also aims to build community and is inspired to act by the climate emergency. 

"Building more pedestrian-friendly, more bike-friendly neighbourhoods and communities will get people out of their cars and out of their homes and will encourage a more sustainable lifestyle with less impact on emissions and on the climate," he said. 

So far, one of the organization's main focuses has been on building more public seating. Volunteers built and installed two sculptural benches, donated two picnic tables, built a colourful seating area on Second Avenue, and built the parklet at Cleveland Avenue and Winnipeg Street. They also installed additional bike racks and partnered with Squamish CAN to host a bicycle infrastructure event. 

As part of the 2020 Squamish Wind Festival, OurSquamish volunteers painted a road mural in Brackendale, and for the festival this year, volunteers built 10 benches, which local artists painted before the seating was placed at bus stops around town.

Constance said seeing folks use the various projects has been inspiring. 

"We got funding from the Community Enhancement Grant this past spring to buy six patio sets that are portable so people may have seen them a few times in Junction Park on a Saturday, when the Farmers' Markets were happening. Within 15 minutes of setting them up, they are getting used, people are rearranging them, and it has been so fun to do that," she said. "It is amazing to put that into a space and allow people to use it. We came back to pick them up one day, and a family was celebrating a birthday or something [with them]." 

Asked about the fear of items going missing, Constance said that is not the question we should be collectively invested in. 

"It is very unfortunate that the first thing that pops into people's heads when we talk about doing public space improvements is 'What if someone vandalizes this or breaks this?' What if they don't? What if people love it and use it and it brings value to people's days every day?" 

She added, for the most part, people respect things when they have pride in their community. So far, that has been the case with OurSquamish projects. 

And the projects are meant for everyone to use. 

Some skateboarders used the parklet downtown to do tricks, but that is OK, she said. 

The items also aren't prohibitively expensive to replace, she said. 

To gather feedback that will guide the group's future work, OurSquamish — in partnership with the District — is running a survey for one year that asks which public spaces are essential to locals and how they can be improved.

"What spaces matter to you and how can we make them better?" said Cameron, summing up the theme of the survey. 

OurSquamish and the District will be reviewing the answers, which will ultimately be used to help guide the future of public spaces in town.

The survey launched in July and will continue until next summer, ensuring feedback is gathered for each season. 

The group is also holding Placemaking Action Team meet-ups once a month and invites anyone interested to join. 

The next one is Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. at O'Siyam Pavilion. 

"We are really hoping to get more folks involved," Constance said. "The message is that public spaces are for everyone, and so we would love to have youth involved; we have engaged with seniors in the community, and it is important that these spaces work for everyone."

Find the survey on their website. 

If you have trouble with the survey or want more information about OurSquamish, contact oursquamish@gmail.com.