Hoping to create an accessible option for the thousands of people living in the area, Chattanooga plans to turn a 1.4-acre parcel nestled in the Oak Grove neighborhood into a new park by fall of 2024.
On the 1500 block of Lynnbrook Avenue, the new recreational space will sit on a strip of land near the road's intersection with East 17th Street. It will have a walking path, a pedestrian bridge, a gazebo, a playground, an open lawn area and on-street parking. City leaders held a groundbreaking Monday morning.
"This park is going to be small, but it's going to be powerful," City Parks Planner Akosua Cook said during a news conference. "It's going to hopefully transform this community."
The project is part of a larger effort by the city to ensure all residents live near a neighborhood park. It also fits into the broad goals of a long-term plan the city is developing for its park system, especially the focus on equity. Cook said in an interview that Lynnbrook Park sits in a slightly more disadvantaged part of Chattanooga.
"A large number of undocumented residents, first-generation people, live here, and they tend to not be visible sometimes when we're addressing these issues," she said. "We're trying to address that and bring inclusivity to all our communities and making sure that they have a park space that is welcoming for them."
Assistant City Engineer Maria Price said during the news conference that the project will also have environmental benefits. It will involve restoring an existing urban stream on the land to its more natural state, and workers will also plant nearly 100 trees.
"Not only does that increase our tree canopy in the city, but that also provides a huge amount of water quality benefits in addition to clean air," she said.
In 2021, the site was the recipient of an award by the National Recreation and Park Association, which will provide a series of donations in the form of various playground equipment, lighting and outdoor musical instruments. The value is close to $300,000. Cook estimated that the overall cost of the project will be roughly $3 million.
"It's a significant investment," Cook said. "The donations help out, and we think our communities are worth it."
Speaking through a translator, resident Juana Escobar said in an interview that she has lived in Chattanooga for about 19 years. With her kids, walking from Escobar's home on Beech Street to the nearest recreational option in the Highland Park area can take up to 20 minutes. The new green space on Lynnbrook will offer a much more convenient option for herself and her family, she said.
Justin Tirsun is the vice president of neighborhood investment with the nonprofit group Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, which is in regular contact with neighbors in that area.
He said residents of Oak Grove have consistently stressed the need for a park. Currently, their closest option is Montague Park, he said, which doesn't have an entrance easily accessible for people living in the Oak Grove neighborhood. It can therefore be a roughly 40-minute walk.
"There's nothing really here locally," Tirsun said in an interview. "So that's a huge thing. It also gives them a center. It gives them a place where they can go to and relax and have parties and really take ownership, which is really exciting to a lot of the neighbors we know."
Cook said city officials hope to bring their new parks and outdoors plan to the Chattanooga City Council for approval this summer. That plan contains five principles: Equity, quality, access, a sense of place and a respect for nature.
The city's most recent strategic plan sunsetted more than 14 years ago, she said, and relied on data from the late 1990s.
"So we have been ... flying blind essentially for years," she said. "It was really important when we created this new Department of Parks and Outdoors that one of the first things we tackled was setting a vision, setting some standards, getting rationality back into our decision-making because it's in recent years had to be ad hoc and reactive."
Councilwoman Marvene Noel, of Orchard Knob, represents the Oak Grove neighborhood and told attendees during the news conference Monday that a great park should be inclusive and accommodating.
"A great park should offer many amenities such as park benches, such as walking trails, jogging trails, such as tables where you can sit and have lunch with family and friends," she said. "A place where you can meet new friends, a place that provides access to green and open spaces, a place that connects neighborhoods. This park here, Lynnbrook, will be that place."