Prior to 2002, the 45th Street park in Chattanooga was used as a neighborhood gathering space, host to family reunions, little league practices and games, tennis matches, and many other events. The 45th Street park land was deeded to the City of Alton Park (which has since been incorporated into Chattanooga) in 1927 with a deed restriction saying it is “to be used for public park purposes only” – an excellent example of a policy supportive of active living. The park’s central location made it easily accessible to several neighborhoods, even though industrial facilities are now encroaching all around it.
Revitalizing a Park
“There really wasn’t much thought to zoning,” says Falice Haire, Volunteer Coordinator for Step ONE, “and now the neighborhood is a hodge-podge of industry and residents.” Surrounding industries include chemical and lumber companies, foundries, and brownfields. Some of these sites are slated to be remediated, but other properties are too contaminated to be used for anything other than more industry. In 2002, the city closed the park and its recreation center, which contains some asbestos. In this mostly African American neighborhood with an average household income of $19,000, residents were directed to a new recreation center that was further away. Getting to this new location can be a challenge for those without a car.
Residents working on the South Chattanooga Leadership Advisory Committee as part of the HKHC project decided to address the priority issue of “developing safe and accessible spaces for physical activity” by revitalizing the 45th Street Park. The need for this work is underscored by Chattanooga’s disparity in park space: South Chattanooga, specifically the Alton Park and Piney Woods neighborhoods, has 2.5 acres of park space/1000 residents, whereas the rest of Chattanooga has 4.6 acres of park space/1000 residents. Committee members planned a park clean-up, which was spurred by talk around the neighborhood about the need for practice space for RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-city) Baseball’s league teams. Folks went home and started making phone calls about the park to whomever they knew, including County Commissioners and City Council members.
What exactly did the revitalization project entail? A four hour clean-up event where community members and elected officials worked side-by-side to pick up trash, clear debris and other hazards, mow the grass, and give the park a makeover. The City of Chattanooga Department of Parks and Recreation helped to get the ball fields ready for playing. On May 21, 2011, over 70 people, including County Commissioners Warren Mackey and Joseph Graham and City Councilman Manuel Rico, arrived at the 45th St. Park to clean it up. Community volunteers, with the elected officials, showed up early and stayed late, testament to their interest in and dedication to the park.
History of a Park
In early June 2011, the Alton Park and Piney Woods communities received word that the City was preparing to sell the park. Thanks to the development of community capacity for advocacy, and unwavering community engagement, residents and other community members are working to ensure that the neighborhood continues to have access to safe places for physical activity. With all the energy the community has invested in the park, momentum is certainly there. HKHC Project Director John Bilderback and Step ONE Volunteer Coordinator Falice Haire both say that from the very beginning all of the work focused on the park, including organizing the clean-up and the clean-up day itself, have been instrumental in building local capacity to address childhood obesity and other community concerns. John Bilderback says, “This has been an opportunity for residents to take the lead and advocate for what they want their community to be.” Moreover, leading is exactly what the residents are doing in this next challenge to save the 45th Street Park.