published Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Grass-roots effort plants tree-filled 'pocket park' in Chattanooga's Southside

Preston Roberts, center, city of Chattanooga arborist, unloads 40 new maple, redbud and ginkgo trees for a pocket park on the Southsidey. Chattanooga Public Works employee Mike Compton, distant left, awaits the  trees at the site adjacent to the Battle Academy for Teaching and Learning. The trees were provided with donations from area residents and businesses.
Preston Roberts, center, city of Chattanooga arborist, unloads 40 new maple, redbud and ginkgo trees for a pocket park on the Southsidey. Chattanooga Public Works employee Mike Compton, distant left, awaits the trees at the site adjacent to the Battle Academy for Teaching and Learning. The trees were provided with donations from area residents and businesses.
Photo by Tim Barber.
WHAT IS A POCKET PARK?

Pocket parks are small public parks -- usually less than an acre -- that are often built in vacant lots or small strips of land as a way to incorporate more green space.

  • photo
    SketchUp model presentation images of the still-unnamed pocket park that will be built on Chattanooga’s Southside through volunteer efforts and donations. The space has been designed by Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects.

The grassy fringe of the Battle Academy school yard on Chattanooga's Southside could remain just that for the next decade, and many wouldn't give it a second thought.

But for a band of stubborn Southside residents, the grassy fringe was not enough. By next spring, it will be transformed into a tree-bordered park, outfitted with sidewalks and a pavilion for chess -- thanks to a grass-roots effort.

"Somehow we've managed to create a beautiful park with gifts and a little bit of money," said Heidi Hefferlin, president of the Southside-Cowart Place Neighborhood Association. "People are very excited about the idea that it will benefit both the neighborhood and the school."

After its completion, the still-unnamed park on the Southside will be the latest in a collection of "pocket parks" popping up throughout the Chattanooga metro area as neighborhood associations and other organizations transform vacant or blighted lots into havens for rest and play.

"It may be a small space, but it can have dramatic impact on a community," said Nick Wilkinson, director of development for Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, which coordinated the construction of a pocket park in Glenwood earlier this year.

"Eliminating blight and putting in nice greenspaces removes a problem area and puts those places back in use. Crime rates go down. Property values go up," Wilkinson said.

Because of a city master plan drawn up in the late 1990s, Chattanooga no longer creates parks smaller than an acre.

But Brian Smith, spokesman for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said individual neighborhoods' efforts align with the city's goal to create more greenspace.

"The quintessential pocket parks are created and maintained by neighborhood associations," he said. "Whether they're large or small parks in these neighborhoods, that is beautification of that area --and that of course speaks volumes."

The Chattanooga branch of the Trust for Public Land also has gotten involved in creating pocket parks. The trust is working to boost Chattanooga's park score -- a measurement of how many people are within a 10-minute walk from a park.

IF YOU GO

What: Volunteers are invited to help with planting at the Southside's new pocket park during the MAINx24 festival.

When: 9 a.m.-Noon, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Where: Outside of Battle Academy, 1601 S. Market Street.

Added incentive: Coordinators will be giving away free hot dogs on site, and volunteers can get free coffee at Mean Mug after they've worked.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The Southside/Cowart Place Neighborhood Association and Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise are looking for money, material and manpower donations for pocket parks.

• Southside/Cowart Place Neighborhood Association (especially seeking donations for benches and lights): 423- 266-3656

• Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise: 423-756-6201

Architects and Southside residents Hefferlin and Craig Kronenberg began dreaming of a neighborhood park several years ago.

"We thought our neighborhood was missing park space," Hefferlin said.

After scouting several locations, Hefferlin and Kronenberg found out that Battle Academy's master plan originally included a park meant to be shared by the neighborhood and the school.

School officials soon approved the use of the property and the pair began designing features and drumming up support. Now they have $38,000 in money and in-kind donations. The local business community -- including nearby stone setters and woodworkers -- donated supplies, labor and funds.

Marketing agency Area 203, which moved to the Southside earlier this year, got involved by donating money, design work and volunteers.

"Its a win-win. It's good for our business, but it also gives back to the community and allows us to make a stake in the community," said Casey Knox, director of communications at Area 203. "This wasn't a park created by the parks association. The folks in the local area have really gotten involved with this."

On Saturday at this year's MAINx24 festival, volunteers will help plant decorative grass and mulch 40 trees donated by Take Root.

"It is very carefully crafted, and makes a beautiful urban space," said Kronenberg, who said he found inspiration in French parks and gardens.

Urban pocket parks could take on a variety of shapes, says Wilkinson. They could be zones with basic outdoor fitness equipment, gardens, or small, simple grass patches with a park bench.

In January, CNE teamed up with the Glenwood Neighborhood Association to squeeze a small park into what was once an overgrown vacant lot between two houses.

The city and county, which seized the property for unpaid taxes, agreed to donate it to CNE. After garnering over $100,000 in in-kind donations and labor, CNE workers and neighborhood volunteers put down sod and mulch and installed a donated playground from local manufacturer PlayCore.

CNE now is hoping to expand its work with neighborhood associations creating parks, starting with vacant or city-owned areas in East Chattanooga.

"We're known for having awesome parks. People love going to Coolidge Park and others, and that's great," said Wilkinson. "But they should be able to find parks in their own neighborhoods."

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