Nicole Vaugeois

Project maps culture attachment

NANAIMO – Vancouver Island University students ask residents what they connect to in downtown.

A team of students and researchers at Vancouver Island University are about to find out what connects residents to their downtown in three communities on the Island.

It’s all part of a university-led cultural mapping project dubbed Where Is Here? The project will examine and eventually map the downtown areas of Nanaimo, Courtenay and Port Alberni with the focus being on which areas residents feel the most connected.

Nicole Vaugeois, B.C. Regional Innovation chairwoman in tourism and sustainable regional development and project leader, said the project is all about modernizing and understanding people’s connection to the places within a city’s downtown core.

“There are no shortage of maps in the world, but we don’t actually understand how people value or make meaning of those places that are on a map,” she said. “This project is really about adding a whole other layer for how and why people value the places that they live in.”

In order to provide an accurate picture of what places are most important to people, the VIU students will head out to each municipality’s downtown, where they will ask residents what connects them to downtown and film the responses using an iPhone. Once enough video and data is collected, an online cultural map will be created.

Eventually individuals will be able to add to the map by uploading their own photos and videos.

“If somebody in downtown Nanaimo really connects with the Bastion, if that is a spot that has a particular value, then there would be a video of them speaking about that and telling a short one-and-a-half minute story about that place,” Vaugeois said.

Information gleaned from the map could help city planners and downtown business improvement associations better understand their downtown cores, according to Vaugeois, who said Courtenay, Port Alberni and Nanaimo were chosen for the project because they are three mid-sized cities that are trying to improve their downtown space.

“We are interested to see if this way of mapping really works and if it is of value to the community stakeholders,” Vaugeois said. “The idea is if this model works, we could expand that.”

Students will be in downtown Nanaimo on April 2. To learn more, please visit

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