The Riverview Lands offer an extraordinary opportunity for social innovation of great help to the those with a serious mental illness and hence to all of us. The possibilities are compelling.
We accordingly propose, for the Lands, a multi-use neighbourhood or village, with both mentally ill and non-mentally ill residents. Its leading objective is interaction between the two in a real community – a neighbourhood for those with a serious mental illness, but not exclusively of them. It will also be designed to provide optimum opportunities for engaging its mentally ill residents in creative work, projects, and other ways that will enrich their lives.
We begin with consideration of the problems the seriously ill face, from chronic difficulties like lack of motivation and anxiety, to limited relationships with those who aren’t mentally ill and other social and vocational impediments. Hence this proposal for a mixed, multi-use community, developed in such a way that the seriously ill are able to tap into a wide range of work and leisure activities, and move ahead. It will also encourage them to develop meaningful relationships with others, giving them a crucial sense of belonging.
This model, then, is neither a new kind of institutionalization nor deinstitutionalization to the often impersonal urban landscape at large. It is a third model – the creation of a mixed neighbourhood dedicated to enriching the lives of the seriously ill and helping them to get beyond the difficulties of their illness – a neighbourhood with a purpose, or what is sometimes described as an “intentional community.”
Another essential element: creating a liveable neighbourhood. A community has workplaces, social meeting spaces, services, amenities, and mixed housing. Without that, one is left with something vulnerable to warehousing.
Integral to life in a village is also work and play. Providing meaningful work for those who can manage it is particularly important for those with serious mental illness – for the satisfaction of a job and of contributing to the community and for the interconnectedness and new possibilities that work can provide.
The housing for those with serious mental illness will be integrated with the other housing rather than being separated out, optimizing in this way interaction with those who don’t have a mental illness – another key element.
Finally is the principle of reciprocity and of reciprocal understanding – an appreciation of everyone’s humanity, where all members of the community are accepted, respected and celebrated as individuals. A necessary part of this is an understanding by others of serious mental illness: An orientation program is envisaged for those moving into the Village who themselves aren’t mentally ill. Community facilitators will act as catalysts in bringing people together.
Having established the concept, we can then look at the components:
- Housing, shops and services, playing fields, a community centre and other meeting places, community gardens, transportation, and other amenities.
- The current arboretum (collection of trees) with a possible arboreal or horticultural centre.
- The redevelopment of Centre Lawn and East Lawn as hubs of cultural and artisanal work, also with offices, interior retail and leisure space, and apartments, “creating Vancouverism all within a couple of buildings.” (We would have liked to include West Lawn as well, but the building may be beyond repair.)
- Linkages, in the two buildings and elsewhere, between these activities and the residents with an illness, in the way of mentoring, friendships, cooperative projects, and paid work.
- A research centre specializing in how to overcome the residual (“negative”) symptoms of schizophrenia and other mental disorders, for which the Riverview Village would be a living laboratory.
- A Museum of Mental Illness.
- Commercial use of buildings like the Crease Clinic and some others along the Lougheed Highway, but always taking into account the Village’s larger objectives, including work possibilities for those with an illness.
Riverview Village would have the same degree of neighbourhood integrity as Kitsilano, say, or The Drive, or Ambleside, or the West End, while being a quite unique neighbourhood in its own right.
Integral to the proposal are continuing support services for those with an illness and core village staff involved in the neighbourhood’s central social dynamic. Financial feasibility is assured by a mix of funding, including the revenue stream from the Village’s market-rate housing.
Riverview Village will be a vibrant, multi-faceted community, while at the same time breaking new ground in the difficult task of helping the seriously mentally ill.
The above is just an “executive summary” of the proposal. You can read the complete version – “Riverview Village: An innovative, ground-breaking community for the Riverview Lands” – by clicking here.
Access a concise account of the rationale of the proposal by going to “Riverview Village aims to improve quality of life for mentally ill,” an op-ed piece which appeared in the Vancouver Sun July 2017.
And there’s more, including an illuminating survey of seven existing intentional communities with a therapeutic or developmental objective: See Key Documents.