Urban Acupuncture

Mike Around BC


Just as Traditional Chinese Acupuncture can be used to relieve stress in our bodies, Urban Acupuncture is a social/environmental theory that uses urban design and small scale interventions to transform and relieve stress in the city. Inspired by Improv Anywhere, the Building Caring Communities team decided that the hustle and bustle of Burrard Sky-Train station needed some stress relieving.

It was the crack of dawn on a crisp fall day when we came together to create an early morning disruption. We stood in a line on the stairs next to the escalator exiting the station with five separate signs that read (in ascending order): “Nick Wants…” “To Give You…” “A High Five!” “Get Ready!” “Nick! (with an arrow pointing to Nick)” and at the top of the escalator, commuters were greeted by cheery, witty, energetic, charismatic Nick and a high five.

It was simply amazing how unanimously positive the response was from the commuters as they were invited out of the tedium of everyday routine to become transformed,all within the time it took to go up a single-flight escalator. Whatever degree of frown, however loud the volume in the headphones, however badly a day was going, the non-stop flow of people presented a cascade of transformative smiles.

Our experience at Burrard Station inspired us to offer this same intervention one month later at the SW Marine Drive Skytrain station. There, the experience was much the same for us as people constantly lit up at the prospect of friendliness without motive. Dozens of people, smiles aglow after receiving a high five, turned around to ask why we were doing this only to be met with “For you! To make your day better!”. This inevitably caused their smiles to grow wider. Two police officers even showed up during our act of urban acupuncture, curious as to why we were doing this. They beamed after hearing our explanation and professed to loving the obvious effect this was having on commuters. They suggested that this type of intervention would undoubtedly greatly improve their experiences working around transit, as an entire vein of the city’s transit was now snaking its way into the heart of downtown, with each smile undoubtedly creating its own ripples.

Sometimes the best gifts to share are those of an experience that later – around the water cooler, or dinner table – become the gift of a story. Our hope is that these acts of Urban Acupuncture not only improve the days of those we encounter, but that our interventions will be so meaningful and simple that others will be inspired to perform their own interventions in their neighbourhoods – that unsolicited friendliness will become something we do with intentionality. In this way, we can use Urban Acupuncture to create positive chain reactions and a culture of connection.