Boundary Street, West End

Brisbane, 1995-2000 by John Mongard Landscape Architects

Black line / white line at Boundary Street: a design narrative to dissolve the spatial line between diverging cultural groups in the heart of West End.

Dissolving Cultural Barriers

Boundary Street used to be the edge between black and white folk in the inner suburb of West End. The urban improvement project aimed to create symbolic bridges across the town's main street by dissolving the cultural and social 'edges' and at the same time creating two new public spaces for the celebrating of a lively community. Public art embraces landscape through a grass-roots community process.

The Town Park: From Liability to Livability

John Mongard Landscape Architects worked through a co-design process with the West End residents and park users to create a new park and toilet structure on the site of the towns problem drinking spot. The old toilet block which blocked the front of the park was demolished and a thin structure was tucked into the side of the park. At the front, a kiosk was designed to create surveillance and activity. The Aboriginal radio station has leased the space to provide a new community asset in the town.

Comfortable seats and leafy lawn areas allow refuge for lunch time visitors. Poetry poles by artist Maree Bracker and bronze reliefs enliven the space. Murals by the community artists hide the bare walls facing into the park providing an interesting `facade' to the park, whilst creating a sense of fun and interest and a reflection of the vibrant and colourful character of West End. With the addition of lamp posts, the park can used at night as well as during the day.

Two Spaces Out of Nothing Makes a Town Heart

The community at West End badly wanted more spaces for gathering and festivals, but the footpaths are narrow and there are no spaces left between the thriving shops. A piece of road was reclaimed at the Russell Street intersection to become the Town Square. The street was made safer at the same time and the service station is now redeveloping into a restaurant which will spill tables and chairs into the performance stage and lizard area.

Under the shade of the trees near the service station, four bike racks and a drinking fountain provide much needed facilities for the community. A community noticeboard and directional sign orients pedestrians, cyclists and motorists to facilities and features in and around West End, as well as providing information on community activities and events. An Aboriginal dreaming trail will link the revitalised park with Musgrave Park at the other end of town, forming a cross-cultural thread which was envisaged and designed by locals.

Nuances of Localness

Residents in West End didn't want symbols of gentrification littering their footpaths: they wanted Boundary Street to remain 'local'. Nuances of localness were created in the form of furnishings, such as the planter boxes which took their form from the old cast iron gas tower by the river. The benches and railings reflect the patterns of Comedia D'Arte, a symbol of streets as a theatre of life.

The West End Shopping Centre has new street furniture, more trees along the streets, more places for pedestrians to gather, increased parking, new public toilets, redevelopment of the community park and a series of locally produced public sculptures. Trees are an essential feature of the improvements. They have been planted on the build outs, in `tree islands' (raised sections between parking spaces) and along the kerb in the streets approaching the shopping centre.

Making Art Relevant and Local

Rarely do public art projects achieve 'loved' status. In Boundary Street the friendly lizard has become a pet of West End. The children walk its tail, teenagers sit on its head and old people shine its nose. Hundreds of tiles were cut by residents and laid onto its skin in a piece of theatre which enlivened the street for two months. Aboriginal Artist Joyce Watson placed the lizard at the end of the dreaming trail which binds the eclectic visions of a community of strength.

A Whole Community Joins In

Artists Joyce Watson, Maree Bracker, Dennis Magee, Helen Broadhurst and Suzanne Holman collaborated with the community over a period of one year. John Mongard Landscape Architects acted as the binder between all the collaborations, ensuring that each project was integrated into the streetscape. A demountable studio was set up behind the library, and residents worked with the artists to create mosaics, murals and bronze plaques.

What was the trigger for starting the project?

The community rejected a proposal for a mall in West End's main street, and asked JMLA to run a collaborative design, art and construction process to create a relevant cultural outcome.

Community engagement

JMLA ran community design forums to get residents to design parts of the main street in small groups. Three artists, including one aboriginal artist, made artworks with the community in a demountable studio and the Lizard was fashioned by over 100 people as a piece of theatre in the street.

Benefits/Outcomes

  • Recognition of multicultural qualities and issues in West End's public realm.
  • Creation of a popular gathering space around the lizard and stage, when once there was just asphalt.
  • Retrofitting park to embrace aboriginality by incorporating aboriginal radio station kiosk and artworks.
  • Greening of Main Street with tall shade trees and planters.
  • Expression of community culture through arts and crafts.

Project implementation

  • Rarely do public art projects achieve 'loved' status. In Boundary Street the friendly lizard has become a pet of West End. The children walk its tail, teenagers sit on its head and old people shine its nose. Hundreds of tiles were cut by residents and laid onto its skin in a piece of theatre which enlivened the street for two months.
  • Aboriginal Artist Joyce Watson placed the lizard at the end of the dreaming trail which binds the eclectic visions of a community of strength
  • Artists Joyce Watson, Maree Bracker, Dennis Magee, Helen Broadhurst and Suzanne Holman collaborated with the community over a period of one year. John Mongard Landscape Architects acted as the binder between all the collaborations, ensuring that each project was integrated into the streetscape.
  • A demountable studio was set up behind the library, and residents worked with the artists to create mosaics, murals and bronze plaques.

Obstacles

  • Lack of funds: Council has minimal money so we didn't have money to repave. We got grant money for artworks and community design.
  • Council lacked a process or infrastructure to create public places: the project was a precedent for the SKIPS projects.

Resources

Art funding was \$25,000 from the Australia Council CEAD fund, \$25,000 from BCC funds. Streetscape and Town Park Works were in the order of \$500,000.

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