Richard Andrews compared his first month as Project Manager of the Village Commons, in downtown Mansons Landing, to the years he was the Executive Director of a non profit in Vancouver.
“There’s a lot of planning going on right now. We’re in phase one of our build. We have the welcome pole to make, and a big pavilion. The funnest work is going to be making a playground. The vending zone and the playground are mysterious right now. I have an idea of what they might be. I have an idea of what people want because we have a lot of documentation from the Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA) about the community process they went through to determine what was to be done with this property,” he said.
“Just today, in the midst of a staff meeting, we realized that maybe what we should be doing is thinking of the whole property as one big playground for people of all ages.”
The Cortes Island Community Foundation hired Richard at the beginning of July.
A lot of his first month has been spent in meetings
RA: “I’ve been coordinating a lot with other people about things to do, making plans, having meetings and discussions, listening to other people’s opinions about how things ought to go. That’s like, reopening a part of my brain that’s been fallow for a long time. So, it’s probably good for an old brain to be engaged in that way again.”
CC: What have you brought to this project from your old life?
RA: “I’ve been aware of, and driven by looking at, social injustice around me, environmental devastation and stupid choices by we humans. I don’t exclude myself from that, I also make stupid decisions. I think what we should do, with as much of our time as we’re able given the limitations of capitalism, is try to minimize environmental damage around us, lighten the footprint and minimize suffering.”
“That seems like a pretty easy directive to follow in terms of what you come back to when you make a choice, but I found over my years that putting it in practice is very difficult because you’re going against the tide most of the time. Most of the tide is driven by capitalism and people’s need, real or imagined, for more money.”
“I worked as the Executive Director for a non-profit in Vancouver that was very much into alternative transportation. The name of the organization was Pedal Energy Development Alternatives and we ran a DIY bike shop called Our Community Bikes, which still runs, and a number of other projects. One of the other projects that we’ve gotten into was making pedal powered agricultural equipment for Mayan women’s groups in Highland Guatemala. So we worked there as a bit of a sidebar on our local work for five years.”
“That was totally unrelated to building and since I’ve moved to Cortes, building is one of the ways I can make a living. I’ve always been handy, so that’s what I’ve been doing for years.”
“The thing I like most about building, is getting to watch people interact with the things that I build and use the spaces that I’ve built. There are very few opportunities to do that because we don’t have a lot of funding available for public architecture or public works.”
“I’ve built some of the outdoor things at the Natural Food Co-op property, for example, their gazebo and the porch over the cafe eating area. I really like going down and watching how people interact with those spaces and how the iterations of the places change over time. I find it endlessly fascinating. It brings me joy to see spaces I’ve built actually being lived in, seeing life injected into them and because I’ve been here for long enough now, I get to see all the different experiences people have. I see people that I’ve known for a couple of decades interacting with spaces that I’ve built. It makes me feel very connected to not just the people, but to the wider community and to the space that we inhabit.”
“This position as project manager for the Village Commons came up and I saw it as an opportunity to be involved in a public work that has a number of different aspects to it. I find more joy in it because I now have some skill, having done it for enough time. I can see the places where I can have fun, be creative and achieve my overall goal of making better spaces for people.”
CC: I understand that one of the projects you’ve made progress on is obtaining a welcome pole for the Village Commons.
RA: “That’s in large part thanks to CCEDA and Kate Maddigan in particular, who worked before me on the Village Commons property. She did the bulk of the fundraising that resulted in the funds we have now to build with. Part of her funding proposal was to pay a local Indigenous carver to carve a welcome pole.”
“We now have a resident carver on island. Ernie Puglis married into the Klahoose Band, he married Stephanie Hansen. He has taken on the job of carving a welcome pole and it’s going to be pretty impressive: about 20 feet tall and roughly 4 feet in diameter. It’ll probably occupy a space not too far into the property from the SCCA parking lot. So it’ll be quite visible. It’ll be painted. If people want to get an idea of what Ernie does, there’s a welcome pole facing the Klahoose parking area just before you get to their multi purpose building and that one, I think, is a 14 foot pole. It’s one of his projects. That will give you an idea of what to expect.
“Klahoose has never had a carver in their population. They have a very small population on the island, so it’s not too surprising. They’re quite lucky to have Ernie.”
“He’s at the beginning of his professional career. He’s worked a lot with some famous carvers. Tommy Hunt is one of them that comes to mind. His game is increasing just in the short time I’ve known Ernie. I’ve looked at some of his work that he’s done in the past and seen how he’s working now. His subtlety and his touch as a carver is improving. I think the pole is going to be a beautiful thing when it’s all done and very much anchored to the life of the West Coast.”
“I think it’s going to be a Chieftain figure with hands out at the bottom of the pole, with a humpback whale standing on the head of the Chieftain. It’ll be quite a dramatic, large pole.”
“I’m looking forward to going out and watching him at work carving, because I work with my hands a lot. I always appreciate watching other craftsmen apply their trade.”
“Ernie’s wife, Stephanie, will also be carving. She is his understudy in carving matters, so she’s getting on top of that game as well.”
CC: Do you have any idea when it’s expected to be finished?
“Ernie was hopeful that he would have the main carve out and blocking of it done by December. Then he may bring it here and do the final carving and painting. There may be opportunities for workshops around carving and an opportunity for people to witness the making of this pole.”
CC: I’m just thinking it’d have to be laid down somewhere.
RA: “Yes, it’s a large chunk. He has a huge work tent that he uses. So he’ll probably bring the pole and tent here and set it up so it’s protected from the weather.”
CC: What’s the next step for the village commons as a whole?
RA: ”We’re really at the beginning stages of development right now. We have some cleared ground. We have a power shed filled with stuff and we have the little pod office space. But, everything else is an open pallet right now.”
“If people do have a strong feeling about something that ought to happen here, and they weren’t able to communicate it during the community process, or even if they were, I’d like them to know that there will be more community meetings going on.”
“We’ve just recently hired an architect who lives here part time, Bruce Hayden, to help spearhead another version of the Village Commons plan. Rather than a concept plan, this next one is more about a site plan to specify the exact scale of things and where things are actually going to go and what infrastructure needs to go in place.”
“In the process of coming up with those concrete plans, there will be room for other community consultation and more feedback. Keep an ear out for any meetings planned around that. If anybody has a particular feedback that they’d like to give me or would like to meet in person to talk about their particular utopia that they’d like to see happen, email me at email@example.com. I’d be happy to meet most anyone to talk about what this land could do. because it is intended for everybody’s use. The more we can know about what people really feel strongly about and what they want, the more likely we can make it happen.”
Top image credit: How the Village Commons is situated in Downtown Mansons Landing – courtesy CCEDA
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