West End’s Win for the Community

In the constant battle of gentrification in the peninsula suburb, West End is very fortunate to have Dr Erin Evans on side.

The vacant lot on the corner of Vulture and Thomas streets is the first new park to be constructed in 20 years and the only one delivered from seven specified in The West End Community Association (WECA) Local Area Plan.

WECA is a not-for-profit representative body of residents across the Kurilpa region of West End, Hill End, Highgate Hill and South Brisbane formed in 2004. Presiding over this organisation is Dr Erin Evans, a passionate resident of the community since 1993. Her genuine enthusiasm in extending herself to the community’s wellbeing is apparent.

“We fought hard to get that park as it was going to get turned into apartments,” stresses Erin. She sought the help of local landscape architect John Mongard in transforming the lot into a village green. John has been instrumental for his design of many features around West End, most notably the lizard area on Boundary St. “So it was a big win for the community to get it. We had a number of meetings and used a process that John had used many times over twenty years of doing community engagement. We ran it during the West End Festival, taking to the streets what the community wanted for the Thomas Street Park.

Thomas StPark - communityideas

“In 2011, (West End) increased in population four-fold up to 27,500 which has later gone up to 37,500,” she recounts. So at the close of 2015 the neighbourhood is up against public spaces and room to breathe. The Thomas Park project, as Erin insists, is a relief among the constriction being felt on every residents’ doorsteps.

“It gives that hope that positivity there’s a lot of people under pressure living around here from the construction, all the stress that this creates, the park is a piece of hope and creativity, a sanctuary.”

Where once-stood a makeshift gravelled car park, this cavity on Thomas Street is ready not for highrise construction but a green, meet-n-green park, precious as a much-needed trove. Sifting over 30 hours of consultation and 1,000 ideas Erin had absorbed the voice of West End.

“Some of the main points that people wanted to see was, they wanted a green village park, some place shady, soft and a little bit undulating,” she recites. “People talked about a social place for young people and old people wanting to bring their lunch and eat it. Kids using it to and from school with some kids getting pretty excited about the idea that this would be a green space where they could stop and play with friends. So you can kind of see the human element coming in. So that’s always really lovely to hear.”

And taking the fight one step further to the council, Erin held no punches in implementing the must for the community to take a proactive role in helping to build what is to be essentially their back yard green-space. And this includes local children’s involvement.

“People really want to get their hands dirty and that’s what we’re really pushing and pulling for. That’s how you really build community by having people be involved. Not just having stuff dumped on their doorsteps. And that’s the way we run our organisation,” said Erin. And in light of an alarming statistic, involving the kids was also of paramount importance. “Fifty per cent of kids who go to (West End State School) live in apartments and don’t have gardens so that’s where you really see just how important parks and green space is.”

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Words by Kirk W Wallace

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