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Jasmine Vasquez is dressed in traditional El Salvadoran attire as she practices twirling at a Latin Festival at the Highland Park Commons. / Photo: Doug Strickland
In a lot of communities you're expected to leave your neighbors alone, and I think in Highland Park you're expected to engage with your neighbors.

Since he moved from New Zealand to Chattanooga about 15 years ago, organizational consultant Emerson Burch has watched the Highland Park community turn over multiple times as new development and shifts in the housing market change what people can afford.

"It's very rare to find someone who's lived in Highland Park for more than 10 years now," Burch says. "On my block there are four of the 14 of us who have been here for 10 years or more. On the next block it's one or two. There's been more turnover. It's the housing market, and people are marketing [the neighborhood]."

some text Deshun Watson, left, and Kareem McCane go for the ball at Highland Park Commons on Thursday, June 28, 2018. / Photo: C.B. Schmelter

Economic displacement aside, there's good reason for that enhanced marketing, says Burch. During a recent chat, Burch, who is also president of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, laid out the area's charm: It's walkable, hospitable and the people are eager to connect and break bread.

Q: Where is Highland Park?

A: Our boundaries are McCallie Avenue, Main Street, Holtzclaw Avenue and Willow Street.

Q: What are your three favorite things about the neighborhood?

A: I like that I can ride my bike and walk easily. I like that I can talk to pretty much anyone who's here. And I love the hospitableness of the community. We welcome people. In a lot of communities you're expected to leave your neighbors alone, and I think in Highland Park you're expected to engaged with your neighbors.

Q: What three words best describe the neighborhood?

A: I'd say it's dynamic, friendly and colorful.

Q: What kinds of people would you recommend this community to?

A: I think if people are looking for a community that is tight-knit and want the opportunity to form real long-lasting relationships, Highland Park is a good place for that. Highland Park is a place where people view home as a place to invite people to, and that's a hallmark quality of the community.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

WHO WE ARE

Population: 2,889

Median age: 47

Homeowners: 39%

*Since Highland Park is unincorporated, exact, detailed data are not available.

Source: NextDoor.com

 

WHERE WE LIVE

Median home price: $128,106

Median rental price: $983

*Since Highland Park is unincorporated, exact, detailed data are not available.

Source: NeighborhoodScout

Development spillover from Chattanooga's Southside has made Highland Park popular among college students and young couples and led to a restoration of some of the area's historic, three- to four-bedroom homes. But economic changes are making it difficult for many residents already in the area. An estimated 75 percent of children live in homes below the federal poverty line. Additionally, the current real-estate vacancy rate is 21.4 percent, some of which is due to construction that hasn't yet been completed.

Source: NeighborhoodScout

 

NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENTS

In 2017, the nonprofit Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise built a 49-unit apartment building called The Mai Bell. In 2018, CNE also proposed constructing 14 new apartment units and commercial on a nearby vacant lot at Bailey Avenue and Hawthorne Street. There's vigorous debate surrounding development in Highland Park. While organizations like CNE propose that more rental units are the answer to the neighborhood becoming more affluent, residents fear they'll be displaced. In the meantime, Burch says, two new restaurants are coming soon: Lil Osso in summer 2019 and The Singapore Cafe at a later date. Furthermore, complementing the neighboring all-girls charter school Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, the Chattanooga Preparatory charter school for boys celebrated being in operation its first semester in August 2018.

 

OUR SCHOOLS

With the exception of East Side Elementary, Highland Park students are zoned for schools within the district's Opportunity Zone, which provides more staff, targeted support and a heightened urgency for improvement in the system's struggling schools.

Orchard Knob Elementary (preK-5)

Enrollment: 454

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 3/5 in language arts, 1/5 in math, 1/5 in science

In spring 2019, Weave Dance Company launched an artist-in-residency program at OKES, teaching hip-hop and other dance styles "to make the arts accessible to those who normally would not have the opportunity." Offered during the normal school day, the classes are open to kindergartners through fifth-graders and funded by a grant through the federally designated Opportunity Zones program for the lowest-performing schools.

East Side Elementary (K-5)

Enrollment: 577

Proficiency (TVAAS): 3/5 overall, 3/5 in language arts, 5/5 in math, 1/5 in science

Orchard Knob Middle

Enrollment: 417

Proficiency (TVAAS): 3/5 overall, 3/5 in language arts, 1/5 in math, 5/5 in science

One of 12 schools in the district's Opportunity Zone, OKMS is one of four pilots for a community school concept that launched in fall 2019 to bring even more resources and programs to address student and family needs. In 2018, students gained more hands-on opportunities thanks to one of the 16 Volkswagen eLabs in select schools across the district. Filled with digital fabrication tools, including automated manufacturing equipment, programmable microcomputers, renewable energy kits, 3-D printers, robotics and laser cutters, the labs are staffed by well-versed professionals in an overall effort to supply kids with skills directly relevant to the workforce.

The Howard School

Enrollment: 945

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 1/5 in language arts, 1/5 in math, 3/5 in science

Average ACT score: 15 composite

In an effort to get more local students career-ready, the district debuted Future Ready Institutes at high schools in 2018. The Institutes partner with the local business community to offer career-themed education through small, targeted learning communities within each high school. Howard is home to the Erlanger Institute of Healthcare and Innovation, the Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Management, the Institute of Robotics and Welding and the Institute of Architecture and Construction. The school's principal, LeAndrea Ware — a Howard alumnus — was named Hamilton County's Principal of the Year for 2018. Around the same time, Ware also celebrated the groundbreaking of the school's new track and stadium, slated to be completed in time for a fall 2019 grand opening.

Source: 2018 State Report Card, HCDE

*The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scale runs from 1-5, with 1 denoting the least effective schools/districts and least amount of progress toward the Standard for Academic Growth.

 

some text Emerson Burch, left, gathers with friends on his front porch in Highland Park. / Photo: C.B. Schmelter

LOCAL FLAVOR

San Marcos is a humble sit-down on Main Street that offers authentic Mexican and Guatemalan cuisine Anthony Bourdain would approve of. You can't go wrong with the asada burritos. 1818 E Main St. Call 423-682-8347.

If you're hankering for Guatemalan food but want a true hole-in-the-wall, Taqueria La Antigua Guatemala is your place. It's so under-the-radar, there's no official address or website listed on Google. To get here, drive east on Main Street, turn onto South Beech Street and then into the first parking lot on your left. The taqueria is between the Salon De Belleza and the Quality Battery and Auto Repair. Call 423-414-5924.

Armando's is a Chattanooga family chain offering just about anything for everyone: burgers, quesadillas, salads. The prices are affordable and the service is quick and fun. 1814 E Main St. Call 423-629-9218.

Head to The Spot of Chattanooga if you need a cup of tea, coffee or beer, a quick snack or a panini, or even if you want to catch a show, fashion night or kick back with your friends on a Friday. The Spot has everything you'd want (just no liquor!). 1800 E. Main St. Call 423-803-5744.

 

DON'T MISS

Highland Park Commons is a hub of the neighborhood. The site of many community events and outreach initiatives, it includes a playground, local garden, large pavilion, concessions and six professional-grade futsal soccer fields which local foundations pitched in to provide. The Chattanooga Football League welcomes players to its three leagues (Open, Women's Open and Over 30) and Chattanooga Sports Ministries offers low-cost leagues for kids at the fields. Corner of Union Avenue and Willow Street.

» In April 2019, Outdoor Chattanooga and local Latino outreach La Paz Chattanooga launched a free, family-friendly, outdoor music series at nearby Tatum Park. Fireside Latino Nights welcomes families of all ages and diverse backgrounds to unplug and enjoy a spring evening gathered around a campfire listening to live music.

 

DETAILS

CITY SERVICES

Highland Park falls within city limits and is therefore governed by the city of Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga City Council meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Council Building behind city hall, located at 1000 Lindsay St. The meeting is live-streamed, as are the preceding agenda session and department reports, which start at 3 p.m. View meetings at ustream.tv/channel/chattanooga-council-meeting. View agenda sessions at ustream.tv/channel/city-council-committee-meeting.

Recycling: The city offers free curbside recycling and provides containers for the single-stream service. Save for glass, most household items are accepted. Call 311 to see if your address lies within the pickup area.

 

CULTURAL RESOURCE

La Paz is the city's leading Latino organization, situated on Bailey Avenue in the heart of Highland Park. The nonprofit works on cultivating business and education development, as well as social outreach. Compañía is the organization's business development department, and it works to build Chattanooga's capacity to serve the diverse Latino market by providing training opportunities for Latino business owners and entrepreneurs and by serving as the premier networking source for Chattanooga's Latino community.

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