It's been 14 years since Chattanooga last rolled out a plan for its park system, and as the need for outdoor amenities grows, city leaders are seeking public input as they draft a new master plan to guide park development for years to come.
"Central Park in New York is of course probably our nation's greatest urban park, and it didn't get there by accident," Scott Martin, administrator of Chattanooga's Department of Parks and Outdoors, said by phone. "It got there because it had a good plan, and that's what this plan is attempting to do is design the next 100 years of parks for Chattanooga."
Officials are scheduled to hold a community workshop about the Chattanooga Parks and Outdoors Plan from 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center Auditorium, 200 East M.L. King Blvd. Food, Spanish translation and activities for kids will be available. People can also dial in if they prefer to participate virtually.
Visit chattanoogaparksandoutdoorsplan.com for more information about the meeting and to take an online survey. The link also contains a way for residents to request a meeting in their neighborhood.
If You Go
What: Community input session about a new parks master plan.
When: 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 8
Where: Bessie Smith Cultural Center Auditorium, 200 E. M.L. King Blvd.
Visit www.chattanoogaparksandoutdoorsplan.com for more information.
The city is using a multifaceted approach to gather input from community members, Martin said, which recently included canvassing attendees at the Riverbend Festival this past weekend.
Martin said the city has outgrown its existing parks inventory, and people increasingly expect more out of their outdoor amenities.
"Ten years ago, who would've thought pickleball was a big thing?" he said.
Officials are still identifying the specific locations within the city that need more green space.
"What I've learned in these processes is it's when the citizens get input and you hear from them about what they want — their hopes, their dreams, what they think is wrong, what they think is missing, what they think is bruised and battered — (that's) where some of the best insights happen," he said.
This document, Martin said, will inform future park projects in Chattanooga.
"When we do these plans well, it's not happenstance that shovels begin to show up afterward," he said.
Officials will gather feedback through the end of the summer, develop a draft of the report in September or October and have the plan ready for City Council review and action in December. That's a swift turnaround for a report like this, Martin said, which usually takes about three or four years to develop.
"We're cranking this down to nine months because we understand the sense and the importance of moving with urgency here," he added.
Ellis Smith, the city's director of special projects, said Chattanooga's greatest competitive advantage is its outdoor spaces.
"You can build an aquarium in another city, you can lay fiber optic cable in another city," he said in a phone interview. "You can't build our mountains, our lakes, our valleys in another city."
He added that Mayor Tim Kelly has committed to ensuring that every resident lives 10 minutes or less away from a green space or a park. Currently, that's not the case.
"We want to work with the community to explore how best to get there," Smith said.