Expert who's speaking in Chattanooga this week says parks are economic drivers for cities

Contributed photo by McAdams / Mitchell J. Silver

Parks are huge economic drivers to cities and not just green spaces that sit in isolation, says the former commissioner of the New York City Parks Department who'll be in Chattanooga this week.

"You can't have a great city without a great parks system," said Mitchell J. Silver, who left his New York post last year after serving under former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Silver, speaking during a Zoom call Tuesday in advance of spending Wednesday and Thursday in Chattanooga, said parks are essential infrastructure and he plans to share lessons he learned in New York and during a 35-year career in the field.

While commissioner, he recalled his department took "unloved parks and made them relevant" in a city that has 2,000 parks and nearly 9 million people.

Silver said New York had a lot of parks with asphalt. The department broke up the asphalt, put in more trees and benches, and created play features, he said.

Also, the department lowered and removed fences at parks and opened their borders, Silver said.

"We made it an open floor plan," he said. "People felt safer. That was a big focus, and we focused on under-served communities. Crime in those neighborhoods went down."

Silver, who now is vice president of urban planning at design company McAdams in Raleigh, North Carolina, said he wants to see Chattanooga's downtown riverfront, where the city is trying to inject new energy.

"It has to be people-centered," he said. "You have to focus on experience and destination. You activate it with stationary elements and then program it."

Silver said the aim is to ensure there's something to do no matter the visitors' ages.

He said a growing trend is one Chattanooga officials are eyeing in the reimagining of Broad Street downtown. Planners are taking a fresh look at Broad from the Tennessee Aquarium to M.L. King Boulevard and embarking on a block-by-block study of the key artery.

Options for Broad in a recent study included a narrowing from four to two lanes of traffic with the road offering wide sidewalks, bike paths and on-street parking to Fourth Street.

While Silver said he needs to see Broad Street, he noted that with outdoor dining and shopping, wider sidewalks are a must.

"When you see people at a location, you want to go there," he said, adding that businesses and office workers "love it."

Concerning the planned site for a Chattanooga Lookouts stadium in the South Broad District, Silver said the idea is to build a district.

"Look at some of the famous ballfields," he said. "It becomes an entire district, not just a stadium with parking."

Groundbreaking for the proposed $79.4 million multiuse stadium that is to sit within 120 developable acres of old foundry land could take place in April, officials have said.

"What do you do before or after the game?" he asked. "It has to be a complimentary use. Parks make perfect sense."

As part of the Chattanooga Design Studio speaker series CIVIQ, Silver will give an address at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at The Camp House, 806 E. 12th St.

Also, Silver will take part in a panel discussion with Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and Scott Martin, administrator for Chattanooga's Department of Parks & Outdoors, from 5 -7 p.m. Wednesday at Common House, 1517 Mitchell Ave.

All events are free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged.

More information and registration can be found at

Eric Myers, the design studio's executive director, said Silver's appearance in Chattanooga is timely.

"It's a dynamic time to think about parks," he said.


— Wednesday, Nov. 9: Mitchell J. Silver will take part in a panel discussion with Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and Scott Martin, administrator for Chattanooga’s Department of Parks & Outdoors, from 5-7 p.m. at Common House, 1517 Mitchell Ave.

— Thursday, Nov. 10: Silver will give an address at 5:30 p.m. at The Camp House, 806 E. 12th St.

Events are free and open to the public, but registrations encouraged. More info and registration may be found at

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.