The Apartment Community Complex

Copyright deepinswim / Flickr

Last Friday evening I arrived home from work via bicycle with a few reusable bags of groceries in each hand, which caused me to use the elevator. As I shimmied my way inside, the door was held open for me by a kindhearted neighbour, Sonia (sp?), who had in her possession some nifty artwork. Naturally, I struck up a conversation about the piece and Sonia politely inquired about my ride home on such a nice day.

And then something unfortunate happened…

JOHN: “Could you please push the button for the second floor? Thanks, Sonia”

SONIA: “Second floor, eh? So, are you new to the building?”

JOHN: “Nope, my wife and I have lived here for about a year and a half now. You?”

SONIA: “Yeah, I’ve been here for about the same amount of time.”


JOHN: “Well…nice to meet you, Sonia.”

[Both make disappointed, semi-ashamed eye-contact and nod goodbye.]

This problematic encounter, I imagine, is an all too common scene within apartment buildings around Vancouver. Sure, I – like most people in this city – are super-polite and very friendly to my neighbours; however, only one other person in my building has actually entered Michelle and my apartment and I regretfully don’t go deep enough in my encounters with neighbours.

This case gets more interesting – perhaps a bit confounding – as the people in our building are supercool folks, which Michelle and I have learned during two strata meetings. There are Inventors, members of the film industry, an Operations Manager for YVR, a Somali Pirate, Yoga Instructors, a Manager of a Mr. Lube franchise, Mr. Lube, Kevin Quinlan, an Actress, a Health Promotion Project Manager, a Comedian, two Welders, and the couple next to Michelle and I who have nicer tomatoes than we do (no envy, we’re just impressed).

I mean, who wouldn’t want to have meaningful conversations with these fine folks?!

Basically, here are three options on which I would love your feedback as I move forward this my quest to build community within my apartment building:

  1. Knock on everyone’s door and introduce myself. PRO: this is probably the most efficient way to get to know my community. CON: this is probably the most efficient way to annoy and/or alienate my community.
  2. Throw a festive holiday party for the building. PRO: who doesn’t love parties?! CON: our building lacks a shared community space, so we would either have to cram 35+ people into one unit and/or host the event in the back alley (for the record, neither of these things are “cons” from my perspective, but I live in a world where they are not deemed “acceptable”).
  3. Borrow ideas from 1990s sitcoms. PRO: the “holiday candy” episode of Friends and the “photographs and kiss hello” episode of Seinfeld were both great in their own way; further, superficial community-connections were definite outcomes of these plot lines. CON: in Friends the community rebelled and aggressively demanded that Monica make more candy, much to hilarious chagrin of the show’s most shrill character; in Seinfeld, Jerry’s refusal to kiss hello results in the vandalism of his photo on the community wall as well as his being shunned by several members of the people in his building (although this problem doesn’t come up again within the Seinfeld universe…).

Speaking of community, Gumbooteers, what do you think of these options? What are other suggestions that you have for building community within apartment buildings?

As our world becomes more dense and urbanized, building positive and productive communities in smaller and smaller urban spaces will be of tremendous importance. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and knock on some doors.

Learning to Love the Library

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the library. There was something amazing about going down to the local library with an empty book bag, and coming home with a bag full of borrowed magic that I could pore over for hours. Then I started earning money, and my visits to the library became less frequent as my bookshelves at home filled up with purchased books. This continued until I bought a kindle about four years ago, at which point I stopped reading physical books altogether and promptly forgot about libraries entirely.

But two things have happened recently that have rekindled my love for libraries. The first one is that my wonderful Grandpa (who, incidentally, is 93 years old and a regular reader of this blog) bought me a membership for the Athenaeum Library in Melbourne. The Ath is Melbourne’s oldest library, starting its life in 1839 just four years after Melbourne became a colony, and is filled with all the magic and history that you’d expect from a library of that vintage.

Over the past two months since I started my membership I’ve borrowed and read a new book every week, and I approach my visits to the library with all the excitement and anticipation that I did when I was a kid. I still feel like there’s something vaguely mischievous about the whole thing – walking to down to the library in my lunch break and coming back with a bag full of books that I didn’t pay for, and that they trust me to return when I’m finished. Amazing.

The second thing that has renewed my love of libraries is that I came across the Little Free Library movement. Basically, Little Free Libraries are tiny book boxes in front yards, bus stops, gardens and bike paths across the world where you can ‘leave a book, take a book’. The movement started about three years ago, when Todd Bol from Wisconsin came up with an idea to remember his mother – a teacher who had a passion for reading and literacy. Todd crafted a box that looked like an old school house, waterproofed it, filled it with books and put it in his yard with a sign that said ‘free book exchange’.

The idea took off, and all of a sudden, neighbours who Todd had never spoken to were dropping in to chat and look through the books. Three years later, there are Little Free Libraries everywhere from Africa to Australia, and Todd has a website ( where you can buy kits to create your own library. Little Free Library’s mission is simple – “to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations”. Double amazing.

Why not check out the Little Free Library World Map to find out if there’s one near you, or even better, how about starting one in your neighbourhood and sharing some library love!

Vote for Alan Bates!

Alan Bates with the Portland FC team at the Homeless World Cup in Brazil

Dear Gumbooteers.

Rarely do Kurt and I call on you for swift and decisive action. But we’re asking for it now. Please visit MLS W.O.R.K.S. (which stands for Major League Soccer … W.O.R.K.S?) and vote to make friend of The ‘Boot, Alan Bates, the MLS Community MVP. Nominated by Vancouver Whitecaps FC, here are a few words about Coach Bates:

For the last four years, Dr. Alan Bates has been leading Vancouver’s Street Soccer community. Street Soccer is soccer for people affected by homelessness. As a resident physician in Vancouver’s inner-city hospital, Dr. Bates sees many people affected by mental illness, addictions and homelessness in the emergency room. When he heard about Street Soccer, he recognized it as an opportunity to help a similar group of people, but through sport. Shortly after joining Vancouver’s first Street Soccer team as a volunteer, Dr. Bates partnered with a small number of grass-roots volunteers and the Portland Hotel Society (one of Vancouver’s largest social housing providers) to form Portland FC. With Dr. Bates as the volunteer Head Coach, Portland FC has gone on to play with or against the Vancouver Police, the Mayor of Vancouver and some of the Vancouver Whitecaps. In 2010, they represented Canada at the Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro where they won the prestigious Fair Play award and were featured on national and international media including CBC, CTV, and CNN. In addition to providing amazing experiences for the players, the team has generated a lot of public interest in the issue of homelessness as people are able to identify with soccer players and the inherent humanity of the highs and lows of the beautiful game. Dr. Bates also played a significant role in creating Canada’s first ever women’s Street Soccer team which represented Canada at the Homeless World Cup in Paris in 2011. As the President of the Vancouver Street Soccer League, Dr. Bates has grown the League to nine teams including teams for women, new immigrants, street youth, and First Nations players. Dr. Bates’ research about Street Soccer has demonstrated that players find better housing, gain employment, reduce drug use, make friends, build confidence, improve their skills and physical fitness, gain medical support and decrease contact with police. For the last four years, players have known that every Sunday morning, rain or shine, all year-round, Dr. Bates will be there to lead practice and provide a safe and fun environment to play soccer with friends and supports.

Meta World Peace being honoured and priviledged to meet Coach Alan Bates

Thanks very much for your time and consideration, Awesome Community-Members. Now get out there and vote early, often and tell 10 friends about this post.


Masthead photo courtesy of robholland’s photostream on Flickr

Vancouver Startup Gives Back to Community Through Crowdfunding

Made famous by websites like “Kickstarter,” crowdfunding has become an easy and effective means of raising money for projects. Vancouver-based tech startup “Weeve” makes use of this practice to raise money for local community projects and is the first in the world which uses a “freemium” model, allowing nonprofit organizations to keep money raised on Weeve without transaction fees. Weeve launched its beta website this week and is already seeing donations come in.

Weeve users are asked to “give smarter” by allowing their dollars to go directly into community projects in need of funding. Beta-launch partners include Seva Canada, YouthCo, SharkTruth, and BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. Through Weeve, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation’s “Campaign for BC Children” is aiming to raise $5000 to help build a new hospital.

“Partners like the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation benefit from Weeve through a number of means. First of all, our website lets them keep every dollar that they raise,” says Trevor Loke, Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Weeve, “We equip nonprofits with the platform and tools needed to reach audiences they may never have tapped into before. We also give tech-savvy and socially-conscious citizens an easy way to give small amounts of money that add up to create real change right where they live – change they can see. Weeve empowers nonprofit organizations to reach these crowds.”

Alex Chuang, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, says that Weeve is the solution to a greater issue that is affecting nonprofits around the globe, “Individual giving in Canada peaked in 1991 when 30% of Canadians gave to charities. Today, that number hovers at less than 1 in 4 – an all-time low. Nonprofits worldwide are feeling the brunt of governments which are cutting their funding, making crowdfunding a tangible solution for the funding crisis in the nonprofit sector.”

Other organizations and community projects will be launched in the coming weeks. To check out current projects visit

Weeve founders consist of CEO Alex Chuang, a graduate of the Master of Management program at the UBC Sauder School of Business; COO Trevor Loke, a marketing, communications and fundraising professional who is also an elected official in the City of Vancouver as Vancouver Park Board Commissioner; and CTO Vincent Chu, who has worked for companies including SAP & IBM. All founders are 23 years old. And here is what they look like:

Alex Chuang- Founder and CEO

Trevor Loke- Founder and COO

Vincent Chu- Founder and CTO

Make Me Feel Important

A good friend recently had her second child and instead of a baby shower, she had a small gathering where guests shared stories and our wishes for her journey through birth and into becoming a mother of two children.  It was refreshing to be a part of an intentional conversation that created space to tell a loved one how I feel about her.  People were shy at first but the group warmed up quickly and it felt great.

I was at a corporate event last night and 10 speakers took to the stage to share parts of their personal lives with their colleagues.  It was so cool.  Everyone spoke on different topics but the common thread was that they all spoke about what they really cared about.  Again, it was so refreshing to be a part of a conversation that was positive and personal.

I met a brilliant CEO last week who talked about how it’s easy to find people to work for her because she looks for people who lead with their hearts.  How awesome is that?  And how refreshing to learn that a business executive makes hiring decisions that way.

Thinking about these three moments, I realized that they were refreshing because they’re rare.  In our device-equipped society, we spend so much time computing, commuting, and snoozing that there’s not a lot of time left for real connections.  Don’t get me wrong, I love blogs and read a bunch regularly.  And lots of them are very personal.  But unless you know the person writing, it’s just not the same damn thing as talking face-to-face.  And I mean really talking.  Having lean-in moments that you find yourself thinking about for days afterward.   And maybe telling other friends about too.

So why is it rare?  Well, for one thing you need to be present to have those magical moments.  And it’s kind of tiring to be present all the time.  Especially when there’s so much good stuff around us to help us tune-out.  You have to work at it and be open to whatever comes your way.  Which means there’s a degree of vulnerability that comes with being real.  Like, you might say or do something silly and then feel silly then people will think you’re silly and you’ll wish you had of just been cool like The Fonz and didn’t say or do anything in the first place.  But I think The Fonz was as unsure as the rest of us and he needed love too.  Not just ladies, but real love.  Plus, he was just pretend anyway.

It’s so easy to slip into our same old soundtrack of negativity and self-doubt.  And it’s easy to be a part of gossip and useless sharing.  But there comes a point when that’s just way too boring for our spirits and those rare moments become the norm.  There’s nothing like a personal connection and as Claudia Garcia so beautifully says: “pretend that everyone you meet has a sign around their neck that says ‘make me feel important’”.  Then the potential to make those connections is limitless.  Love it – thanks cgg!

Masthead photo from Franck Mahon’s photostream on Flickr

Claudia Garcia – Soulfully Photographic

Who are you?

Claudia, a.k.a. “cgg”. Mother, photographer. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay & exiled to Canada in 1977.  My parents arrived with $450 in their pocket, 2 suit cases & 2 young children under the age of 7.  Through hard work, they were able to provide us with a happy home and education.  I have learned so much from all of their sacrifices.  Although I have lived most of my life in Canada, my roots and that “pull” to my culture has always been very much alive & raw inside me. This has inspired me to raise my girls as little Uruguayan Canadians. I only speak Spanish to them.  Spanish books and music are a big part of our lives. Thanks to YouTube we can watch different cultural events that happen in Montevideo, such as the yearly Carnival and various festivals and Skype keeps us connected to our family.  My husband (being East Van born and raised) has embraced this and has learned a lot of Spanish along the way. It is fascinating to watch our 2 ½ year old switch back and forth between Spanish & English depending on which parent she is talking to.

What do you do for fun?

Photography.  I love it.  When I was just a kid, I was fascinated with my father’s camera and would get in so much trouble if I touched it, but I didn’t care – I just HAD to hold it and sneak in a few pictures.  Those were the film days when film and processing was expensive.  At 14, I finally got my own camera and did black & white dark room photography for 5 years.  I have lugged my camera all over Cuba, Jamaica, North & South America through my travels. I love to document life – people working, people having fun.  I also have a thing for buildings.

What is your favourite community? Why?

My favourite community is the one we are submerged into right now.  We moved to the TriCities last year and our children attend a Parent Participation Preschool which is just amazing.  The group of families that run the preschool really walk-the-walk.  When one of the teacher’s husbands broke his leg, everyone got together and cooked up a storm and delivered meals to the family.  We put on a successful coats & toy drive this winter for our local food bank. The fund raising committee that I am part of has done a great job in raising the money that will keep the school up and running for next year.  Next month we are holding a big fair which will give back to the local community with bouncy castles, pony rides, and entertainment, all for a very nominal cost.  Thanks to this community and preschool, our children are in a positive play-based environment and it gives you the warm and fuzzies to watch them discover, thrive and gather confidence.

What is your superpower? People look at me and tell me stuff.  My skin must emit some kind of “truth serum” pheromone or something.  I am like the bartender in all the movies that you see working behind the counter and people come and sit down, order a drink and then tell them things their best friend doesn’t even know.

How do you use it to build community? Of course, this new discovered truth that people share now comes with a sense of responsibility because people often want words of wisdom.  This superpower helps me to build community one person at a time.  Someone once said “pretend that everyone you meet has a sign around their neck that says ‘make me feel important’”.  Every person is different, but fundamentally, people just want to feel accepted and we also want to feel hope.  By listening, it gives them permission to feel vulnerable which is very powerful.

My Three Favourite Things About cgg Are…

1. She’s Really, Really Nice. To make a long story short, Claudia played a very big role in getting my career to where it is today – when an opportunity came up at UBC’s Sauder School of Business it was with Claudia’s recommendation that I made it to (and through) the interview process and into the role. To this day, I am both incredibly grateful and also very much in her debt. Thanks, Claudia!

2. Photographic Awesomeness. Claudia has a wonderful eye that spectacularly captures the soul of people and places (see awesome photos of Uruguay). She’s creative, poetic, cool, and super-classy when it comes to the pictures she snaps, sure, but especially through how she presents her work – a knack for powerful storytelling is reflected by Claudia’s words and images above. Even through a lens people seem to tell her things! Oh, and any great photographer must have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, which totally shines through in cgg’s story of how her family grew a happy and healthy life in Canada while staying connected to their roots in Uruguay.

3. Intercultural Community Building. The fact that Claudia’s toddler can flip back and forth between Spanish and English – depending on the parental audience – will serve the child/children well in our hyper-globalized world. I love cgg’s stories about using technology (YouTube and Skype) to maintain a healthy cultural connection between the national/local communities of Uruguay and Montevideo as well as the very important connection to family.

Special Bonus Reason! URUGUAY! I love Uruguay. So does Michelle. We wrote about Montevideo a lot during our month in South America and, well, I can simply say that Montevideo is on of my “favourites” list of global cities. One of the reasons that we had such a great time is because Claudia gave me some great insider tips – because, like I said, she’s really, really nice!

All photos courtesy of the lovely and talented Glaudia Garcia aka cgg.

Don’t Feed the Trolls: dealing with negativity in social media communities

When I started a new job recently, I was stoked when I found out that my first project would be creating and managing a Facebook page for the organization. I’ve helped develop and administrate a social media presence for a few organizations over the past couple of years and I’ve always loved watching online communities develop and grow.

Trouble is, I’ve realized over the past few weeks that although I’ve administrated social media pages for varied organizations, they’ve all been organizations that have solid community support. And now, for the first time, I’m administrating a page that attracts a pretty decent amount of distrust, with a bit of full-blown hate and a couple of crazies thrown in for good measure.

There’s nothing quite like arriving at work on a Monday morning and combing through a weekend’s worth of wall posts and comments that, for the most part, are pretty negative about the organization I’ve chosen to work for. I knew when I took the job that it wasn’t going to be a picnic, but I may have underestimated the complexity of dealing with negative community sentiment. As a result I’ve done a lot of reading lately on this topic, and I thought I’d share what I think are the three best take home messages for keeping things positive and dealing with negativity in an online community.

1. Step away from the delete button. It’s easy for organizations and companies to head straight for the delete button when negative posts start to appear, but it’s not a sustainable or practical way of dealing with the issue. Being unresponsive is the same. It’s not a good look when organisations only respond to the people who say nice things about them, and if you’re not responding to any posts, negative or nice, then you need to seriously reconsider whether your organization belongs in social media. Instead of deleting negative posts, thank the community member for their feedback, respond to any specific questions and move on.

2. Let your community respond. If you’ve worked hard to develop an engaged and thriving social media community, then there’s a good chance that your community will respond to questions and comments before you even have a chance to. Let them go – a lot of the time your community are a better endorsement of the organization than you are.

3. Don’t take it personally. If you’re passionate about your job, it can be difficult not to jump on your high horse when people start to diss what you’re doing. Like I mentioned above, there’s something slightly demoralizing about receiving a barrage of negative feedback from your community, but you can’t take it personally. Stop, step back and have a cup of tea before your respond to anything negative. I guarantee it works.

Masthead photo from this photostream, body photo from this photostream and this photostream. Both used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

Talk to Strangers and Embrace Overheards

julipan / flickr

My bathtub drain used to be clogged. It’s not anymore. And I can thank the following community-minded things for water no longer building up into some sort of “foot bath” during shower time:

  1. Talking to strangers.
  2. Overhearing community.
  3. Being un-plugged in the world.

So, like I said, my bathtub drain was clogged (this is perhaps the only downside to my wife’s thick and luxurious hair). As I spent some time running errands before meeting up with this blog’s Managing Editor, Kurt Heinrich, my travels took me to the East End Food Co-op (it’s one of the only places that you can get fair trade bananas in Vancouver).

Though bananas were the only thing on my list, I asked the very helpful clerk if there were any “environmentally friendly drain cleaning products” on the shelves. She said “sorry, but I don’t think there are.” The woman in line next to me, however, overheard my question and provided me with an answer: “depending on how severe the clog is, you can probably fix it with baking soda and vinegar,” she said. “Just put ‘em together and create a little cleaning volcano in your drain!”

Google later confirmed the success of this concoction.

And now our water flows freely. More than that, we have a sustainable solution for solving this problem from today until all of Michelle’s hair falls out!

Unplugging my drain came from being unplugged in the world, which allowed me to talk to strangers (who, let’s face it, are just friends we haven’t met yet) and be overheard by another future friend.

If this wasn’t community in action then I don’t know what is.


Good Grief

I lost a dear friend last Sunday.  She was 37 and battled breast cancer for three years.  She lived and died in Australia and I met her when I lived there in 2003.  She was a few days away from being considered to be in remission, and two days away from her birthday, when her cancer aggressively resurfaced.  This time it was a brain tumour and the cancer quickly spread into her spinal column.  It would only be four more months until her celebration of life. She came to visit me in Vancouver in 2006 and we spent some time hanging out in Whistler.  Appropriately, I was in Whistler this weekend.  And I  spent it thinking about Karen, about death, about grief, and about life.

Karen was an incredible human being.  She was witty, kind, generous, and full of life.  She was happy with where she was and with who she was.  Perhaps more than anyone else I know, she found joy in most things.  She didn’t get stressed, she never lashed out, she had totally average aspirations, and her priorities were her dog, her family and her friends.  And she was hilarious.  She was raised in a Catholic family and I can hear her joking about having died on Easter Sunday and the parallels with Jesus Christ.  I’m sure her parents found comfort in that.

She blogged about her cancer journey because she couldn’t find information online about what it actually felt like to have cancer.  She also used her blog to keep in touch when she couldn’t get out of bed.  It’s painful to read her final posts before she got really sick.  But it’s also an incredible gift to have the chance to read about what she was going through, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I’m grateful that I could stay in touch with her through social media.  As she neared the end of her life, her sister used her Facebook page to keep her friends updated.  It’s been over a week since she died, but I’m on her page every day reading all of the lovely words and photos her friends have shared.

I don’t know why it’s so easy to ignore the painful realities of life until they smack you right in the heart.  But it is.  We continue to eat crappy food, pursue unhealthy thoughts and behaviours, and misspend time and energy.  People often describe changes they make as prompted by a wake-up call.  Are we not awake every day?  Why does it take the real threat of death to make us wake up to ourselves?

During my angsty undergrad days, I questioned the point of life.  Not in an “I don’t want to live” way, but more in a Bittersweet Symphony way.  At the time, my very smart brother told me that the point of life is to have as much fun as possible.  I thought that was way simplistic and self-indulgent and stupid.  Fifteen years on from that, I now understand what he meant.  And I agree: the point of life is to live.  And to live in gratitude.  To be a good friend, ally, advocate, activist, community-builder, parent, colleague, and child, you start from a place of graciousness.

Karen taught me how to live life when she was alive and she taught me how to live in her death.  I’m sad but I’m also grateful for the reminder that our time is finite and each day is to be lived.  So I’m choosing to honour my beautiful friend Karen by having as much fun as possible.  I know I’ll forget and get irritated by the usual annoyances, like bad manners, alarm clocks, and telecom bills.  My simple plan is to keep a photo of Karen close at hand so I’ve always got her beautiful face to remind me to smile.  I like to think of this as good grief.

Living Happily with No Regrets

My Happiest Day ( thanks to shawna / a thousand words photography)

In my family, death was never a subject that was avoided at the dinner table. So it came as no surprise when my mom sent my sister and I an article from The Guardian called “Top Five Regrets of the Dying” – it discusses the stories collected by a palliative care nurse over her lengthy career.

The number one regret of dying people was/is: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

I’ll just let that sink in for everyone. Especially you, parents who are un-accepting of your child’s passion for haiku poetry.

The second regret was/is: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

[Editor's note: Kurt, are you reading this post?]

Hopefully these two stunning – or not so stunning – realizations inspire you to change your life (or pat yourself on the back for living a regret-free existence!). If not, perhaps check out this blog post by Seth Godin, who breaks down the false-narrative of how so many of us perceive happiness.

One of my mentors recommends that our lives should be about collecting stories to tell our grandchildren. It’s a great message, for sure. And these are some of the stories that I hope to collect in my life.

Finally, let none of us regret or lament a shortcoming of kindness. After all, if the stories that we collect aren’t nice ones then we aren’t going to have too many people by our sides as we reflect on our lives lived.