Loganlea Neighbourhood Centre and Community Park

by John Mongard Landscape Architects
Cost: over $250,000
Time Span: over four years
Community: Loganlea Suburb and Public Housing Area.
Initiators: Loganlea Friends and Neighbours Association Incorporated.
Participants:
  • Loganlea Friends and Neighbours Association Incorporated.
  • Loganlea Residents and School Children
  • Logan City Council.
  • Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning.
  • The Australia Council.
  • John Mongard Landscape Architects.
  • Dennis Magee Artist.
  • Queensland University of Technology.
  • Wacol Detention Centre.

Context

Loganlea is a disadvantaged outer suburb of Brisbane City with poor physical and social services and a lack of community focus. Like many areas targeted for public housing on the fringe, it has suffered from a lack of integrated planning. Single mothers are left stranded during the day by poor public transport and during the night by lack of lighting and footpaths. No places existed for people to come together prior to the creation of a Neighbourhood Centre. Children play in run-down parks and drainage ways. There are few physical cues which express the cultural nature of the suburb's community.

Approach

A small group of women from adjacent streets in Loganlea banded together to lobby for funds to create a gathering place for the community. They formed The Loganlea Friends and Neighbours Incorporated and fought over several years to gain funds and support to build a neighbourhood centre and community open space.

Raffles and cake stands at local shops were used to raise funds. Through the help of the local housing participation officer, the group applied for CEAD funding and began a co-design process facilitated by a Landscape Architect and an Artist.

The Landscape Architect (John Mongard) lectured at the Queensland University of Technology. The graduate students in Landscape Architecture provided research and workshop support to the group in exchange for hands-on experience in codesign. This exchange continued for a period of six months.

The project was approached as an active collaboration between Artist, Landscape Architect and community. Central to our philosophy was the concept of healing the neighbourhood, and building wholeness in the area through a multi-use and central communal place. It was important that richness was created in this bleak suburb, and community art would be a vehicle to achieve this. Art would be integrated into the local landscape and generated by local people.

Evolution

As designers, we were asked to facilitate a co-design process similar to that of Stanley King's text, and to build people's visions into the creation of the neighbourhood centre and the parklands.

Whilst it was difficult for the neighbourhood group to at first understand the process and to let outsiders into their hard fought neighbourhood project, a slow trust developed and the designs began to evolve.

A co-design process involving a series of four workshops was enacted. These design orientated sessions allowed us to progress from general identification of needs, through to detailed design by the community for specific spaces. Seven detailed outdoor space briefs were developed. Students from QUT responded with sculptural ideas for the grounds, and the designers incorporated all of these elements and developed a masterplan. The Artist had continuous on-site presence to develop community art elements and the Landscape Architect administered construction.

The co-design process took the Landscape Architect double the time and fee allocated by Australia Council funding, despite the assistance of 15 University students. In the early stages I had to justify less than normal hourly rates to people who were juggling to make ends meet or to give voluntary time. In such a context, a Landscape Architect has to give more for less if one is committed to addressing the lack of equity and design in the outer suburbs. This is probably why few designers are working in these areas.

As the landscape works began to be constructed and the project continued, it was realised that landscape design was a more complicated process than the community had originally believed.

The Neighbourhood Group ran the Centre by voluntary support and had one member funded as a community officer for 6 months. Lack of ongoing funding by local agencies may threaten the foothold established by these women in the Loganlea Suburb. What has been achieved is a place in the neighbourhood that has wonderful gardens, and series of fun and surprising sculptures on fences, paving and in gardens. Most importantly, a process of communal gathering and sharing has begun.

Expression

The project has helped in creating a sense of place in Loganlea. Hampered by lack of funds, lack of active Council support and a community suffering from low sense of expectancy, the Neighbourhood Centre has begun to make a physical and social difference.

The physical planning was constrained by the need to utilise and recycle materials. The building was created prior to the codesign process, utilising local trade and labour including prisoners on day release. It is a well built but utilitarian structure. The building limited the landscape and artistic possibilities of the site, however it must be accepted in these contexts that one takes what one can get.

The masterplan aimed to enliven the building and its muddy grounds, to create a centre which fitted its neighbourhood, whilst also bringing new colour and face.

The true innovations of the project are about the recycling of materials and the use of local people's energy and talents.

It is a truism that great things can be done when there is good support and money available for such projects. It takes great skill to create beauty and richness out of very little.

As an example, it was decided early in the project that a fence was needed. The local authority suggested a full sized wire fence around the perimeter to prevent possible vandalism. We decided that this was not the right face for the neighbourhoods first communal place. Arising from variousworkshops, an idea about a flexible, sculptural fence took seed.

The Loganlea Friends and Neighbours Association skilfully acquired a truck load of disused electricity poles. The fence was built using these poles and located in a weaving line through the open spaces, thus helping to break the geometry of the building. Dennis Magee worked with the local high school students on the site and in the classrooms to create pole top sculptures and faces. Primary school students made triangular panels to embellish the fence.

Children on holidays were invited to tile making workshops and a cluster of games and puzzles were installed into the verandah as part of the tiled floor.

The university students made models of the possible play elements based on another children´┐Żs workshop. One of these models became a built project: a jumble of huge boulders cradling two sandpits and dissected by a meandering waterway, flooded with the aid of a built-in hand pump. This hugely popular feature within the child minding space was thus created.

Response

The Loganlea Neighbourhood Centre was built and established over a period of over three years. Currently we are trying to build the play island in the drainage problem area that has been donated to the Centre by the Council.

The Loganlea Friends and Neighbours Association have lost through time, some of their key and energetic people. A Neighbourhood Centre which does not receive ongoing support and administrative funding is only as strong as its community.

The latter stage of the project involving the upgrade of the community park has been drawn out through lack of funding. Cultural developments in the outer suburbs peter out when government support runs out, however the reality is that Australian society does not have the robustness and long term networks that other places have developed over time. Communal life in the suburbs has to nurtured in pragmatic as well as spiritual ways because it is an uphill struggle in subdivisions which are planned and built with individualistic rather than communal lifestyle visions.

Landscape Architects have currently no conventional processes in place to deal with the co-design process. Those of us who choose to work with communities in places such as Loganlea, have had to invent a way of working and must reconsider attitudes about what constitutes a professional, and what is a client.

For Further Information Contact:
John Mongard Landscape Architects
mail@mongard.com.au
Ph: (07) 3844 1932
Fax: (07) 3844 3250