A Guatemalan immigrant-heavy community in a neighborhood called "the most promising residential tract ever opened in Chattanooga" more than a 100 years ago is a 2021 recipient of the National Recreation and Park Association's (NRPA) park revitalization project.
Lynnbrook Park, in the Oak Grove community off East 23rd Street, will be the site of a $2.8 million project in which the city works with the association and a coalition of partners to transform a 1.4-acre space into a useful place for outdoor recreation and to correct a longstanding environmental problem.
The project — for which $750,000 is designated in the city's fiscal 2022 budget (with $500,000 rolling over from fiscal 2021) — is yet another example of the public-private partnerships which have distinguished Chattanooga for decades.
Annually, for more than a decade, NRPA has selected a Parks Build Community project based on criteria focused on an area where the impact would be extensive.
About 1,000 people who live in the Oak Grove neighborhood, according to the association's June and September magazines, have limited access to parks. The site selected for the park is an empty lot on Lynnbrook Avenue, half of which is paved, with a drainage ditch running the length of the lot.
The drainage ditch is a creation of the 1930s Works Progress Administration and allowed stormwater to drain from the area into the Dobbs Branch stream and eventually to the Tennessee River, according to the magazine. However, the ditch over time has lost its functionality, flows inefficiently and can flood.
As part of the park build, the ditch will be turned back into a restored stream with native plantings along the banks that make it both sustainable and an attractive water feature for residents. Combining the parks build and the stream reclamation is the smart thing to do, city parks planner Akosua Cook said.
"It has these cumulative benefits — it would bring over 3,000 residents within a 10-minute walk of a park, it would reduce heat island effect, it would improve the overall flooding issues in the area, and it would improve that whole watershed, [which] would improve water quality for the residents," she told the NRPA publication. "It is a great overall location and will provide a great overall impact for the area."
The idea for the park is at least five years old. In 2016, the Trust for Public Land office, along with the city's Public Art department, applied for and received a National Endowment for the Arts grant. It was used to hire a local artist to do a series of public engagement events to find out how community members interacted with nature and what type of park would make the most sense in the area.
Working with the community through events such as Fiesta Lynnbrook and Design Over Dinner, the group created the park's conceptual layout and determined what amenities they wanted in it, all of which are summarized in the park's design sketchbook.
And while the park would have moved forward through city funding regardless, NRPA's selection of it — with donors giving their products, equipment and expertise — will allow it to be even more complete.
Planned to start construction this fall and open in the spring of 2022, Lynnbrook Park is scheduled to feature a playground, an open lawn area, a pavilion for group gatherings and an adult gaming area. The stream, over which a series of small bridges will be built, offers an example of how green stormwater infrastructure can be an integral part of environmentally resilient parks.
Recently released 2020 Census information indicates the tract in which the park is planned, which lies between Main Street and Interstate 24, has the biggest concentration of Hispanic residents in the county. Hispanics comprise 49.7% of the tract.
Statistics also show the tract is one of the highest in the county for households receiving help from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps).
The area, first developed between 1905 and 1913, was a highly sought after community in its day, according to newspaper archives. Then called Oak Grove Park, it was advertised as "the suburb with sidewalks," "only 20 minutes [by foot] from down town," "the prettiest residence addition ever opened in Chattanooga," "right in line with the city's fastest growth," and "the queen of fine residence sections." Interestingly, given its 21st century drainage problems, it also advertised among its amenities "close to sewer, good drainage, fine rich soil" and "no gullies."
"No other section can make such a showing," one Ferger Brothers ad boasted.
While Lynnwood Park will give the Oak Grove community something that was never boasted about in its original advertising more than a century ago, parks promote physical activity and boost mental health, bring people together, increase air quality with more trees and push up property values.
This one is likely to do all of that.
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