York House: Reimagining the Arbutus Greenway

Arts Education, Health and Career Education, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies

School: York House

Teacher: Casey Wilson Gray, Krista Payette, Jennifer Sharpe, Wendy Shore

Artist Collaborators: Toni Latour

Class: Grade 2




Grade Two students at York House School engaged in a six-month project to reimagine a sustainable design for the Arbutus Corridor that serves the needs of the community and environment. Students learned how the people influence the environment in local communities, how the environment influences people, and how this, too,  has global consequences.

The Arbutus Corridor is an 11 km long strip of land that runs between False Creek and the Fraser River in Vancouver, BC. This land was purchased in March by the City of Vancouver from the Canadian Pacific Railway limited and is being considered as a potential greenway. The City is initiating planning discussions on potential designs for this land based on community needs and wants.

The York House Grade Two Students were involved in a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and design, and math) project to develop a practical, responsive, plan for the redesign of the corridor by using a ‘Design Thinking’ approach. This involved gathering information through research and interviewing stakeholders about their needs and wants. Students also built empathy for the potential users of the greenway, as well as local citizens and stakeholders. Students generated design ideas based on needs and wants, as well as build prototype designs. They tested and shared their design concepts, and reflected on the input they received in order to refine their design concepts for final presentation, to City of Vancouver planning staff and the York House community. Ultimately, the students painted hundreds of rocks bright, vivid colours and wrote messages concerning the environment on them. The work, which was installed on the Arbutus Greenway, is a way to bring awareness to local environmental issues and the connection to the world.


Connection to the Vancouver Biennale Exhibition

Students gained a strong understanding of the Arbutus Greenway site, the needs of the community, and sustainable urban design practices. After gaining this background information, they were introduced to the public art as a means to promote community engagement and draw attention to local issues.

The students visited Toni Latour’s let’s heal the divide, Bener Venet’s 217.5 Arc x 13, and Yue Minjun’s A-maze-ing Laughter.



This project meets many of the British Columbia Curriculum’s “Big Ideas”:


  • Students will connect and engage with members of the community to learn more about their needs and use this knowledge to inform their plans.

  • Students will acquire, interpret and present information to support their plans.

  • Students will collaborate with peers to plan, build and present their urban plans.

  • Through their log books, students will recount and reflect on their experiences and accomplishments.

Creative Thinking:

  • Students will design urban plans that have value to the community.

  • Students will collaborate with peers to generate ideas through the ideation process.

  • Students will develop ideas through research and trial and error.

Critical Thinking:

  • Through interviews, site visits and access to resources, students will question and investigate the problems related to their inquiry.

  • Students will apply critical thinking to create and transform a public space.

Social Responsibility:

  • Students will develop awareness about social and environmental issues in the community.

  • Students will be encouraged to solve a problem in their community through their design proposal.

  • Students will recognize the diversity of our community and will develop an inclusive plan that serves the needs of everyone.

  • Through interviews, students will build relationships with members of the community.

Guiding Questions

  • How might we create a sustainable urban plan for a local park that serves the needs of the community?
  • How might we use our knowledge of indigenous plants, local water ways, and ecosystems to create a sustainable landscape design for the site?
  • How might we use public art to connect the hearts and minds of citizens in the Arbutus Greenway community?

Cross-Curricular Access

Arts:  People connect to the hearts and minds of others in a variety of places and times through the arts.

Career Education

  • Strong communities are the result of being connected to family and community and working together towards common goals.
  • Communities include many different roles requiring many different skills.

Design Education: Designs grow out of natural curiosity

Language Arts

  • Everyone has a unique story to share.
  • Through listening and speaking, we connect with others and share our world.


  • Objects and shapes have attributes that can be described, measured and compared.
  • Concrete items can be represented, compared and interpreted pictorially in graphs.


  • Living things have life cycles adapted to their environment.
  • Water is essential to all living things and cycles through the environment.

Social Studies

  • Local actions have global consequences, and global actions have local consequences.
  • Individuals have rights and responsibilities as global citizens.

Learning Process/Inquiry Challenges

Site visit of the Arbutus Greenway, December 2016: The site visit provided a shared experience and got students thinking about the park and needs of the community. Teachers used the students’ logbooks, observations and questions to inform the direction of the project.

Knowledge Building Circle Introduction, December 2016: The first knowledge building circle provided  important insights for assessment for learning. Teachers determined where students were in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there.

Understanding the Community, January and February 2017: Students interviewed members of the community about their experience with the Arbutus Greenway and their needs for an outdoor space. Over multiple classes students brainstormed questions, identified and ordered themes, and then further refined them. Students worked in teams to interview members of the community and then shared their findings with others. As a reflection, students wrote thank you letters to their interviewees.

Understanding the Environment, January and February 2017: Working with our science specialist and outdoor education specialist, students learned more about the local flora and fauna, invasive species, and sustainable ecosystems. To connect to the science curriculum, students were encouraged to think about local waterways and how they affected their plans for the space. This included another visit to the site to collect lab samples. Students became aware of the importance of environmental considerations in design and how local choices have global consequences.

Empathizing and Graphing, February 2017: Students collected data from each interview which was used to create a pictorial graph. For example, they asked questions such as, “Would you prefer a bike path, play space, or forest?” Students graphed the results and used this information to inform their designs.

Define the Problem, March 2017: Students reflected on their interviews and knowledge gained and made sense of the widespread information they gathered. Students considered, “What is the fundamental need/needs of the community and environment?” Students worked as a class to define meaningful and actionable problem statements.

Introduction to Public Art, March 2017: Before March break, students were introduced to public art and were encouraged to find and photograph public art over the holiday. Students were asked to answer questions related to public art and community.

Understanding the Space, March 2017: Students were introduced to aerial photographs and maps of the area. Students learned how to create basic maps by mapping the school yard. Students then used this knowledge to inform their understanding of the site and plans for its’ future.

Introduction to Urban planning, Landscape Design, and Sustainable Design, March- April 2017: We invited local landscape architects, urban planners, architects, artists, and other specialists to learn more about considerations of the environment, community and space. Students looked to other global examples of outdoor spaces that have engaged the community. They considered, “How do our community’s concerns, challenges, social issues, and environmental issues relate to other communities across the globe?”

Public Art and Community, April 2017:  Biennale artist, Toni Latour visited York House to introduce students to public art in Vancouver and its role in the community. The students considered, “How do artworks in the Biennale engage the community or bring awareness to local issues?” and,  “How can we use this knowledge to inform a public artwork for the Arbutus Greenway?” This led to the idea of painting rocks bright, vibrant colours and writing messages about the environment, community, and ecosystem on them.

Art Installation, June 2017: The rock garden will be installed on the Arbutus Greenway in June.


Student Creation

The students began this project by investigating the physical space of the Arbutus Greenway. After considering the indigenous plants and animals that reside there, the community that resides in the area, as well as how the spaced is used, Toni came up with the idea to create an installation that firstly, was natural in nature (the rocks), and secondly, reflected the aforementioned aspects. The messages written on the rocks were assembled from student’s log books as well as from ideas the students brought up in class. The students were also asked to consider messages that might make someone passing by “smile” if they read them.

The rocks, which are bright yellows, oranges, and pinks, as well as earthy greens, blues, and plum, were all painted by the students. The messages were also handwritten by each student.



Artist – Toni Latour

From Day 1 I realized I was working with very sophisticated students!  Even before my slide lecture started, a student told me they knew all about public art and the Biennale and my piece.  At 7 years old, many of the grade 2 students at York House School were familiar with The High Line in New York and the River Restoration Project is Seoul, Korea.  I showed them these projects as we set out to make a temporary public art piece on the Arbutus Greenway in Vancouver.  Before I arrived, they had already interviewed the public to find out what people would like to see on the Greenway, and they were investigating sustainable vegetation, and environmental design.  These kids were raring to go!

On my second visit, we all went on a field trip to see public art in the city, including Let’s Heal the Divide, the Arc, and A-Mazing Laughter.  The children were curious and playful and responsive.

In the coming weeks, the kids generated words and sentences related to community, the greenway, nature, and positive messaging.  From there, we selected text that would be written on the bottom on rocks in the hands of the grade 2’s.  But before the text was written, we needed to paint those rocks a rainbow of colours.

Jennifer Sharpe and I washed, gessoed and prepped over 800 rocks for the children to paint.  Over several classes we got it all done!  Then the students wrote their text on the bottom and the rocks were ready for installation.

On the morning of June 9, we gathered on site to place the rocks in 2 rows on either side of the Arbutus Greenway path.  The flowed from red to pink, following the spectrum of colour in the rainbow.  A Biennale sign was placed informing the public of the project and encouraging them to pick up a rock and read a message from a grade 2 child.

Even as we were still installing, the public was getting curious and were starting to delight in the experience of colour on their walks and bike rides.  As Ms Sharpe and I put the finishing touches on the installation, many people offered positive comments, stopped to ask questions and to thank us for this work.

The installation was covered by Novus TV, where I did an interview along with teachers, the principal, and a few of the kids.  The project was also photographed through many stages, including installation day.Rainbow Rocks on the Greenway was such a success!  It engaged community directly through art production and education.  The kids were proud of their installation, and we brought colour into the world.