Collingwood Park Potluck
by Rob Howatson

On December 22, 2010, Steve Gillis-Moore and his partner Michael awoke to discover that someone had slashed the tires of nearly every car on their street.  After making a report to VPD, Steve and Michael took to the street.  They knocked on doors, spoke to neighbours, and left letters encouraging all those affected by the mischief spree to file police reports so that VPD would be more likely to hold the perpetrator accountable.  Although the perpetrator was never caught, the seeds were planted for the creation of a Neighbourhood Block Watch team. “While no house on our street had ever been robbed, we noticed increasing vandalism in the area and even a few accounts of prostitution on Kingsway,” says Gillis-Moore. “The crimes were somewhat troublesome, but the bigger concern was how few strong connections existed between long time residents of the street.”

“We felt like we were surrounded by nice people, but that we were merely surrounded by polite strangers, not concerned neighbours.  I found it discouraging when I would greet people with a friendly ‘Hello’ or ‘Good Morning,’ but the greeting wouldn’t be returned.  For whatever reason, older women were afraid to say hi to me,” explained the 38 year old technical writer.

So in addition to forming a Block Watch team with the Vancouver Police Department, he decided to double his efforts to increase neighbour participation in the annual  Collingwood Park Potluck that he had hosted every summer since 2008. The annual summer gathering is a chance for neighbours to socialize, hear live music, learn about community crime prevention and enjoy an incredibly eclectic smorgasbord. “The ethnic diversity on my street is amazing and it shows at the buffet,” says Gillis-Moore. “If you have a favourite Indian, Portuguese, Chinese, Nova Scotian, Fijian, French, or Filipino dish, it is almost definitely at our potluck.”

Starting in 2011, he began applying for Vancouver Foundation Neighbourhood Small Grants to help with the cost of flyers, tables and chair rental, condiments, and. Attendance at these yearly get togethers varies from 50 to 100 people, but every guest who attends carries the message of neighbourhood building further out into the community. What began as one block watch team in the area, is now five. And Gillis-Moore, who knew no one on his block nine years ago, now knows residents in 21 of the 31 houses on his street. He created the Collingwood Clean Up Crew which recruits volunteers to pick up litter in Collingwood, and he is lobbying the Park Board for a local off-leash dog park.

The local activist says he volunteers his time for these projects because he can’t bear to ignore a problem that he knows he could solve. 

He knows there is a lot more work to do, but that the neighbourhood has already changed for the better because he can see it out his front window. “I was looking out across the street into the park one morning and I noticed something different. The elderly Indian aunties, who normally sit on benches and watch the elderly Chinese ladies do their tai-chi, were up on their feet and practicing the moves in the middle of the asphalt basketball court. I consider that a huge break through.  What could be more Canadian than seeing people from different backgrounds coming together on a basketball court to improve the health of their mind and body?”