A Condominium Balcony Beautification Project

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In the spring  of 2010, Tony Jones, a resident of Carriage Lane condominium complex in Abbotsford B.C., suggested to his condominium committee that a balcony beautification competition be set up to encourage more individual residents to enhance their already beautifully landscaped complex. Carriage Lane units are either ground level or first floor. Each unit has two quite large balconies, in most cases facing east and west.

With the committee's sanction of the idea came the appointment of Tony to be its organizer. Quips the novice balcony beautifier: "Not so good as I know little more than how to hang a hanging basket!"

Tony contacted Toronto Balconies Bloom (TBB) for help with designing contest criteria and was grateful for TBB's recommendation to keep things simple, with a focus on fun and the enhancement of outdoor living space.

Enthusiastic feedback from Tony's neighbours followed on the heels of the initiative's announcement, as did offers to help and evidence of an increased number of residents dressing up balconies and patios, some for the first time. Tony arranged a 20% discount at a local nursery for residents to buy plants/hanging baskets and kept residents informed of developments through bright weekly bulletins.

It was new territory, a "learn as you go" situation. Tony writes: "I quickly learned that the term 'competition' was too strong for several elderly residents concerned about vying with neighbours. Emphasis was redirected toward encouraging community participation. The next weekly bulletin featured a softer approach, emphasizing encouragement and promoting participation. Judging would be less formal, emphasizing recognition and special effort."

Throughout the summer, Tony visited almost 200 of the 288 units in Carriage Lane, introducing himself and asking permission to photograph a gardener's balcony or patio. All but one resident agreed, with enthusiasm. Pictures of two or three units were posted each week in the central mailbox area of the complex.

Tony continued taking and posting photographs until September then asked the professional landscaper who manages the complex's extensive grounds to help set up judging criteria. Several categories were decided, including best patio, best balcony, most colourful, most interesting use of ornaments and, for Tony the most important, the most comfortable or practical use of limited outdoor living space. On reflection, Tony felt categories for displays of cacti and vegetables could have been added.

A winner was selected. There were no prizes, but the recognition was sufficient reward for the very happy couple.

The experience was enjoyable for Tony, providing the opportunity to chat with a wide range of previously unknown neighbours from many countries and backgrounds. Each day he would be stopped by residents and given enthusiastic feedback, about the increased number of colourful displays or increased incidence of neighbours introducing themselves to one another to compliment or discuss floral displays.

Throughout, the condo committee was kept apprised of plans to enhance the program with year-end judging and hold a gathering to announce awards that would include light refreshments, a photographic display and Q&A session with a professional landscaper.

Although there was initial written support by the condo council to organize the event, a later meeting decided that it was not appropriate for expenses (printing, prizes and refreshments) to be paid from condo fees. Understandable when considering ever-increasing demands on maintenance fees, but short-sighted from Tony's viewpoint given the intent of the initiative to bring the community closer together. In the end, Tony shares: "The council contributed toward printing expenses, for which I'm grateful. However, without a larger pre-authorized budget next year, I will probably discontinue the program."

Accompanying pictures are a minimal selection of the several hundred shots taken of wonderful displays of colour and creativity (with a note, to acknowledge that the photo of the winning patio display includes its border garden).