Pawson Park renovations attract more users

Old City Quarter area residents are reclaiming their neighbourhood park with renovations and a community art project that’s creating a sense of ownership.

Veronica Buck and her daughter Sessaly

Veronica Buck and her daughter Sessaly

Old City Quarter area residents are reclaiming their neighbourhood park with renovations and a community art project that’s creating a sense of ownership.

Renovations to Pawson Park, located at the corner of Franklyn and Machleary streets, began in early spring. The City of Nanaimo consulted with neighbourhood residents and invited Yvonne Vander Kooi to become an ‘artist in residence’.

Residents are celebrating Phase 1 of the park revitalization today (Aug. 4) from 4-7 p.m. The Nanaimo Old City Association also hosts an event Aug. 11 from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

The project has engaged the neighbourhood and residents now feel more invested in the space and recognized by the city, Vander Kooi said.

She began her project, painting a mural on the washroom and storage building, in early July. She gathered community stories and incorporated them into her art piece. She wanted residents to have more connection to the renovated space and invited them to help create art pieces, adhering to a flora and fauna theme.

“It’s been a brilliant project to be involved in. It’s been a real privilege,” said Vander Kooi.

The $70,000 revitalization project was covered through the city’s capital plan. Upgrades include removing an old wading pool, renovating the washrooms, creating more storage for parks and recreation summer drop-in programs, creating a community garden, planting grass, installing new playground equipment and making it wheelchair accessible.

Area resident Veronica Buck said the transformation has restored the community feel and made the park functional.

“It’s just a real blessing now. It’s really heartening to see this happening,” said Buck. “It is now becoming an exceptional park. It’s inviting positive attitudes and inviting positive input.

Prior to the renovations, there was graffiti and parents would find used needles and condoms, Buck said. But now there are always people using the park and those elements are being eliminated. Whenever she goes past, she sees families using the park, she said.

Doug Creba, a Nanaimo Old City Association director, said when people use the park, it becomes a more comfortable and safe place.

“Public space is only valuable when people use it,” he said.

With accessibility issues addressed, the park is attracting people from different generations.

Jeff Ritchie, senior manager of parks and civic facilities for the city, said because the park is across from Malaspina Gardens and wheelchair accessible, it’s becoming an inter-generational space.

“It’s a big improvement from what was there. It’s a real amenity for the neighbourhood,” he said.

The Pawson Park opening celebration will feature the unveiling of the mural and permanent art display created by community members. There will also be live music and a potluck – residents are encouraged to bring a dish to share.

The Nanaimo Old City Association picnic and barbecue is Thursday (Aug.11) from 5:30-8:30 p.m.