Community efforts are underway to turn surplus land in Red Deer’s West Park neighbourhood into a multi-generational gathering place, with a gazebo, amphitheatre, food forest and games area.
The West Park Community Association is raising money to re-imagine a small diamond-shaped city property that backs onto residential alleys southwest of the West Park Shopping Centre, off of 37th Street.
Right now this grassy space holds 29 raised community garden beds. But by the end of this summer, association members are hoping to add landscaping and a wheel-chair accessible gazebo to provide shelter for barbecues and to serve as a future natural amphitheatre stage.
“We want to create a park for all ages,” said association president Stephen Merridew, who feels this will not only enhance recreational opportunities in the area, but also serve to heighten public presence and reduce opportunities for crime.
“Public spaces put more people on the streets,” Merridew added. “This land (now) has very little utility. We’re hoping to add to it so it will become more of a gathering place for all ages and and activities. It will legitimize the use and and make people feel proud of their neighbourhood.”
The gazebo installation would be in Phase 1 of the project, contingent on raising $25,000 in community donations and getting matching government grants. The association has already hit the $10,000 mark, which West Park Community Association associate member Danny Tomalty believes is a promising start.
Tomalty feels the neighbourhood already has “a unique small-town atmosphere,” since West Park residents tend to walk and get to know their neighbours. “What’s missing is a distinct spot they can walk to.”
Future plans include planting fruit trees and bushes for public picking in a food forest Phase 2, when picnic tables and benches would also be added, as well as an outdoor ping-pong table and chess tables. Paved and rock trails would be created, and the hill would be topped with more soil for better wintertime sledding.
During Phase 3, a nature playground would be installed, as well as a horseshoe pit and additional trees planted.
The West Park Community Association spent years discussing how to enhance the green place. City parks planners also recently contributed ideas. But it was made clear to the association that, while the City of Red Deer would maintain the park in future, lining up money to get the new amenities will be up to residents.
Parks superintendent John Eastwood explained that community associations can access government grants that aren’t available to municipalities.
“We like to see this kind of things happen,” Eastwood added, because when people pull together to enhance their neighbourhood it puts more eyes on the street to watch for suspicious activities. “It also creates a sense of ownership and community feeling in an area.”
The City of Red Deer’s area redevelopment plan for West Park got the ball rolling by pegging this surplus land for community garden space. This turned out to be extremely popular with residents. Based on demand, the gardens were expanded three times so there are now 29 rented plots compared to eight initially. “They are all booked and there’s a waiting list,” said Merridew.
Community feedback was then collected to determine what else residents wanted in this park. Merridew said West Park has younger families and college students co-existing with older generations. Since at least four children’s playgrounds are available within a kilometre’s walk, the neighbours amenities for older residents were needed too.
No firm costing estimates have yet been done for Phases 2 and 3 of this project. Tomalty said the association’s fundraising will continue. For more information, visit www.westparkrd.com/gardendevelopment.