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Small fairy gardens are often nestled into the bases of trees, making them easy to miss.

Fairy gardens build community amid disconnection in Vancouver

Look down. Way down. There may be fairies in your neighbourhood.

By Emma Renaerts , in City , on October 23, 2018

Look down. Way down. There may be fairies in your neighbourhood. Vancouverites are building community with fairy gardens, but if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss the magic.

Fairy gardens, usually consisting of miniature doors, picket fences and furniture, are appearing in public spaces across Vancouver.

Fairy garden sign tells passersby that local residents “believe in fairies.”

Elana Jacobson built her fairy garden on the city-owned boulevard in front of her house because “I wanted the neighbourhood to enjoy it and we love when we see people stop and look.”

Her seven-year-old son Benjamin reminds her that they also made a garden for fairies “because they’re real.”

The Jacobsons, who live in the Riley Park neighbourhood of central Vancouver, erected their fairy garden in the spring of 2016. Four others have emerged within a three-block strip over the past year.

The trend suggests Vancouverites want to make their city friendlier, says Lidia Kemeny, director of partnerships at the Vancouver Foundation. She believes fairy gardens “inspire people to reach out to each other and connect.”

Kemeny oversaw the Vancouver Foundation’s 2017 study on connections and engagemen in Metro Vancouver, which found people were less involved in community life than they were in 2012, and “14 per cent of residents say they feel lonely often or almost always.”

Although 14 per cent seems low, Kemeny says, “Even 10 per cent of people who feel disconnected and disengaged can really have an impact.” They tend to be in poorer health and contribute less, she adds. “There’s a cascade series of events that impact negatively on them and the community.”

Get down to ground level to see a fairy soak up the sun in her garden.

Fairy gardens won’t fix all Vancouver’s problems, but Kemeny believes every chance we get to interact with our neighbours combats disconnection.

Newcomers to the Jacobsons’ street who built fairy gardens say the activity made them feel more connected to their community. Anna Hennessy says her garden got her family involved in the neighbourhood and gave them the sense that “we’re a part of this.” Another new resident, who joined in the fun, says his seven-year-old bonded with a neighbouring child over their fairy gardens.

Jacobson stresses these small local actions are important for civic life: “People really do stop, and play and talk about it, and I think it builds community in our neighbourhood, I think it builds magic.”