Attractive, well-maintained, well-located and open public parks make a city more attractive. No doubt about that.
Rundown, poorly maintained, isolated and little used public parks do the opposite.
Chattanooga, it was announced Wednesday, is one of six cities across the country afforded participation in the national Trust for Public Land's Park Equity Accelerator competitive grant program.
The city's focus, according to the organization that selected it, is "resourcing and sustaining high quality, inclusive community engagement and decision-making to maximize health, climate, community and equity outcomes in parks planning."
In real-world speak, we think that means they want to get input from as many people as possible to create good parks where people can be physically active in a way that fits them best.
With Chattanooga's selection, the organization's website explains, the Trust for Public Land will "support these projects and bring technical assistance, financial resources, learning and evaluation and final product development to participating cities."
The organization has a goal of ensuring everyone in the 300 cities in its 10-Minute Walk Campaign — from which the six were selected — has a quality park within a 10-minute walk from their home. Only 39% of Chattanooga residents, it was said at Wednesday's announcement, can walk within 10 minutes to a park. The national median is said to be 55%.
Growing up in a middle class community in Chattanooga, we had no public park within a 10-minute walking distance. But within 10 minutes or so, we could reach a church that had recreation facilities or a school that had playground equipment and ball fields.
More importantly, we could play ball on empty lots or make up games in the yards of friends and neighbors.
We're not sure a whole lot of that goes on these days when video games and other electronic devices occupy the minds and time of young people.
So, if they build them, the parks, that is, will they come?
In the world of franchise businesses, companies often do market studies to determine whether a franchise would do well in a certain area. They learn just exactly who might use it, what they're likely to spend and how often they'll come back. The name of the franchise may be well known, but if it is determined the public won't frequent it, it won't be built in that area.
We hope that's what the city, along with with its 10-Minute Walk Campaign collaborators Trust for Public Land, National Recreation and Park Association and Urban Land Institute, will do.
Indeed, we hope that's what they did with the future Provence Street Park, where Wednesday's announcement was made.
Provence Street is an narrow, isolated street two to three blocks off the south side of Brainerd Road on the slope of Missionary Ridge. The site of the park is a long, kudzu-ridden gully between two hills and is nowhere we would want young children to be playing alone, or after dark. That doesn't mean a world-class park can't be created there, but it will require — at the least, after extensive land clearing — parking, disability access and signage directing people to a place which has little visibility and is hard to find without a phone or car navigation device.
We also hope the city's partnership won't turn out the way the city's bike lanes plan did when the city accepted several grants in the mid-2010s. Downtown streets and outgoing/incoming thoroughfares were narrowed to afford paths for the two-wheeled vehicles, and now nearly a decade after their first installation they are little used.
Then-mayoral candidate Tim Kelly mocked the bike lanes in a debate with opponent Kim White in 2021, calling them "a noble experiment," but allowed more of them to be installed once he became mayor (perhaps as part of a grant the city was already committed to). Indeed, in one of the newest ones, drivers coming downhill out of the McCallie tunnel and exiting onto McCallie Avenue must cross a bike lane in order to make the no-stop turn. If bikers frequented the lane, it would be one perilous stretch of road.
Don't get us wrong. We're absolutely in favor of parks. The city one we frequent has visitors from sun-up to sundown, a playground, dog parks and restrooms. It is open, flat, easily accessible, attracts all manner of Chattanogans and has plenty of parking. Gates bar access at night, and there is enough lighting from nearby businesses to discourage illicit activity after dark.
We hope any future parks that come out of the collaboration among the city, the Trust for Public Land and its partners have some of those amenities but also others the specific neighborhood wants and is determined to be a place it residents will frequent.