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How neighbours have come together to cover one Vancouver street in birdhouses (PHOTOS)

The colourful little houses have become an attraction for passing pedestrians

It didn't start with birdhouses.

A few years ago, pre-pandemic, Mae-Ling Yen moved into a new building along West 11th Avenue between Birch and Hemlock streets in South Granville. She had moved from the suburbs and missed the community feeling of her old area, so she organized a block party with one of her new neighbours, Faisal Mirza.

Together they organized the first block party for the street in 2017 with fewer than 100 attendees. In 2018 and 2019 Yen and a growing number of neighbours hosted bigger and bigger gatherings, Alicia Hintz says, who got involved in 2018. She's been involved since, describing Yen as the group's "fearless leader."

"She wanted a way to reach out to everybody and build trust," she tells Vancouver Is Awesome, describing how in 2019 people from neighbouring blocks showed up, with around 200 people gathering.

"They had food, games, chalk art, it was a way for people to come and connect," she adds, calling it an "epic potluck party."

People would bring food, or get rid of items they didn't want but were still useful. There were a bunch of free books; prizes were donated.

But the 2020 edition had to be cancelled; COVID-19 was in full swing.

So, like many other businesses and organizations, the group pivoted.

"How do you connect with people on this bock in a safe way?" Hintz asks, rhetorically. "When the whole cheer thing happened at 7 p.m. Mae reached out."

The neighbourhood started having mini, distanced dance parties as the city erupted each night. That happened for several weeks.

Yen also set about beading and hanging hearts along the street, Hintz says, though few are left after someone cut them down. That was followed by Easter eggs hidden down the block. As Christmas arrived a more elaborate idea came about.

"Just this past Christmas we got a grant from the Vancouver Foundation to purchase Christmas lights," Hintz says. "We hung them on both sides of the street."

Yen also got ahold of hundreds of ornaments and they were hung up and down West 11.

Now, with spring in full swing, new things are hanging from the branches.

"Now we have birdhouses," says Hintz. "We're still adding them."

She figures there's around 20 birdhouses hung right now, but they're hanging some more and the odd one disappears, so she's not sure exactly how many at any given time (they've taken to hanging them higher).

While it's unfortunate some people take the birdhouses, other people leave 'thank you' notes to the group, writing about how they try to walk down the street on their way through the neighbourhood.

"When people see us hanging stuff people will stop and thank us," Hintz says. "I think this is a way for people to slow down their pace and get their mind off things."

In that way the birdhouses are still bringing the community together and helping lessen the feeling of social isolation, she says.

The group has applied for another grant and has started an Instagram account to chronicle the avian residences. If they get the grant some of the money will go toward a new little community library.

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