Opinion: Chattanooga Needs a New Parks Plan: A City Within a Park
Chattanooga and Hamilton County have always been ambitious when it comes to parks and green spaces. That’s why we have double digit miles of greenways along the Tennessee River with side trails from Camp Jordan to South Chickamauga Creek, and Ross’s Landing to Southside, and one day soon to St. Elmo and the foot from Lookout Mountain to connect with National Military Park trails. Right in the middle of it all, we have the Riverfront.
It’s also why we have Coolidge Park, Greenway Farm and Enterprise South Nature Park.
But city officials say we’ve waited too long lately — about 14 years — to come up with a new park system master plan. After all, our city and our people are growing, but our parks are not.
The current goal, according to officials and future thinkers, is to reimagine Chattanooga as “a city within a park” – where a system of parks and protected open spaces connect people to each other, where all neighborhoods have beloved and well-used parks. , and where nature and its benefits are integrated throughout the city. In other words, to make sure everyone in Chattanooga is within a 10-minute walk of a park.
“Central Park in New York is of course probably the greatest urban park in our country, and he didn’t get there by accident. He got there because he had a good plan, and that’s what this plan is trying to do is design the next 100 years of parks for Chattanooga,” Scott Martin, administrator of the Chattanooga Department of Parks and Nature, told The Times Free Press on Tuesday.
Yet despite our strong start with the Riverwalk, Riverfront, Riverpark, etc., we are behind in more ways than one. Compared to other cities nationwide, Chattanooga has 6.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, compared to a national average of 9.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents.
Chattanooga would need an additional 540 acres of parkland to match the national figure and 14 additional playgrounds to match the national ratio of residents to playgrounds. This national average is 3,607 residents per playground compared to our city’s 5,030 residents per playground.
With that, city leaders began last week seeking public input to draft a new blueprint for keeping us busy and playing for the next century.
The planning process will assess the current state of our parks and outdoor spaces and initiate a public conversation about what we love, as well as an examination of the barriers that prevent some communities from using parks more often.
There will be other contribution opportunities, such as “meetings in a box”. These are opportunities for you and your neighbors to ask and set up small dialogues. Check it out at chattanoogaparksandoutdoorsplan.com. There will also be a summer opportunity to see the draft plan before city council receives a report in the fall and begins deliberations on it around Christmas.
As a starting point, the planning team identified six types of parks and four types of citywide park systems.
The six types of parks are community parks, single-use facilities, and neighborhood parks like Brainerd Park and Recreation Center, Summit Softball Complex, and East Lake Park; iconic parks like Sculpture Fields at Montague Park; pocket parks like Main Terrain Art Park; and regional parks like Greenway Farm and Stringers Ridge parks.
The four types of citywide park systems are greenways like the Tennessee Riverwalk; blueways like South Chickamauga Creek; public realm sidewalks and bike paths like Miller Park and much of downtown, and natural resource corridors like the Cumberland Trail.
Combined, these park sites and recreational and ecological networks form the basis of a parks and outdoors system. And this park system functions as essential natural and social infrastructure for the City of Chattanooga.
Okay, so that’s a lot of planner words. The main thing, however, is us – us, the inhabitants of the city. And why we – we – should care.
Parks are fun, enjoyable, relaxing, of course. Plus: Young people are 26% more likely to be regularly active in neighborhoods with parks. Every dollar invested in the park generates $2,000 in local public and private investment. In cities that experienced a population decline during the 1990s, neighborhoods with more parks experienced a 54% lower population loss. An acre of trees absorbs the amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving a car 11,000 miles.
Again, city staff will collect feedback until late summer, develop a draft report in September or October, and prepare the plan for city council to consider in December.
Chattanooga’s greatest competitive advantage is its outdoor spaces. As one city official said, “You can build an aquarium in another city, you can lay a fiber optic cable in another city. You can’t build our mountains, our lakes, our valleys, in an other city.”
Chattanooga’s second best advantage is a relaxed, healthy, and educated population. Big and better parks get us two-thirds of the way there.