Finding community: a mapping project
Guest post by Lisa Slager
What exactly is community, and what does it mean to be a part of one? These are questions that guided me through my undergraduate sociology honours thesis. The truth is, although being part of a community takes a lot of time and effort, it is worth it. I began to realize this the more I immersed myself in this project, which quickly become a journey that was far beyond what I ever expected research to be like.
Before I began this project, I knew I wanted to focus on cross-generational relationships at a community level. Lucky for me, the University of Victoria has remarkable community-engaged research coordinators (i.e. Rhianna Nagel), whose job is to help students work with communities and academics to grow and learn together on shared, meaningful projects.
This was how I became introduced to the lovely – and very intergenerational – Oak Bay neighbourhood. As an ongoing volunteer in Oak Bay, I learned that some individuals felt excluded, isolated, or distant from community. Age-friendly spaces that brought different generations together were vital to the social inclusion of everyone.
With the help of the Oak Bay community and the sociology and geography departments at UVic I had my project – a community map that would be an inventory of intergenerational opportunities in Oak Bay.
I never considered myself a geographer of sorts, but the inter-disciplinary work with the Mapping Collaboratory was one of the most enjoyable things about research.
Constructing the map allowed me to take my research and be creative with it. The view from the Turpin building was not too bad either, and quickly became one of my more favourite spots on campus.
Little did I know how much a part of my project I would become. Getting to know a community is incredibly time intensive. I spent most of the winter walking around a snowy Oak Bay, talking with local organizations, and getting to know where different generations meet.
I learned that intergenerational meant more than being in the same place as someone of a different age, but rather involves building friendships through fun, shared experiences. Intergenerational relationships engage all members of a community, offer new perspectives, and add richness and vitality to both your own life and those around you. These community-led activities are the opportunities that, if you take them up, provide you with one of the many ways to connect to community.
I worked well into the sunny spring days, taking a few personal detours to the beaches, where I learned about the community’s dedication and connection to the local environment. This is headed by restoration projects like Friends of Uplands Park and the Monteith Indigenous Plant Association, which seek to use age-inclusive activities to connect people to local environments and sustainable community development.
Of all the locations on the map, my personal favourite was a one I came across accidentally in my journey through Oak Bay – the free public knitting nights at Hide + Seek Café. As a novice knitter, it was amazing to see people of all ages get together each week with their own knitting projects. We would gather with a cup of tea, chat about politics, and share a common hobby. I could not believe that participating in these group activities was actual research!
This space meant that residents got to know each other, local business owners, and their own community better. These are the spaces that make you feel closer to others, accepted, valued, and an important part of your community – a home where you are greeted and welcomed by new and old friends.
My engagement in this intergenerational project quickly meant more to me than just a grade; I watched myself grow as a person, made friendships across generations, provided a map that has value and use in Oak Bay, and obtained knowledge from a unique hands-on experience.
Read more about Lisa’s project: Mapping the generations together in Oak Bay: Oak Bay Community Map showcases age-friendly activities and events