A 30-year conscious effort to revitalize Chattanooga’s Highland Park neighborhood is succeeding.
We asked Nooga.com contributor and Highland Park resident Meghan O’Dea to give us a walking tour of the neighborhood (see slideshow above).
The pictures serve as a reminder of the power and potential when a group of citizens band together for their neighborhood.
Originally one of the city’s first suburbs, Highland Park was created in the late 19th century for middle-class families. It quickly garnered a reputation as a premier section of the city, with large homes and thriving businesses.
As Chattanooga began to expand outward to other areas-Brainerd, Hamilton Place and Northgate-the Highland Park area became less desirable throughout the years.
The ’70s and ’80s brought what was known as the “white flight” of Caucasians from the neighborhood. Entire blocks of homes were destroyed to make room for Tennessee Temple University (now vacant), and Highland Park began to earn its reputation as a place of ill repute.
And, unfortunately, Highland Park gets a lot of unnecessary blame for incidents that occur in surrounding neighborhoods.
“A lot of the time in the news, anything that happens between Missionary Ridge and Central and all the way over to the Georgia border is considered Highland Park,” O’Dea said. “But that’s not the boundaries of the neighborhood.”
Highland Park is perfectly square-bordered between McCallie Avenue, East Main Street, South Holtzclaw and South Willow.
Click here for a map.
According to O’Dea, the beginning of the turnaround started in the 1980s, when resident Judith Schorr created a neighborhood watch (which later became the Neighborhood Association) to help draw attention to the issues.
Schorr’s efforts were noticed by the city, and progress was made to oust drug houses and rampant prostitution rings associated with the area.
“She sort of systematically got all that shut down,” O’Dea said. “By the late ’90s, Highland Park was well on its way toward making a good recovery. But really in the past 10 years is when people started buying homes and refurbishing them, and it got back to sort of the family neighborhood it is again.”
Families are beginning to land in Highland Park as their first choice when coming to the city, she said.
The Neighborhood Association has become a sort of social group, providing a place to air issues but also have fun. Artists, young professionals, newlyweds, academics and downtown employees are all present within Highland Park.
For years, Tennessee Temple University held a strong influence on the area, with the campus in the middle of Highland Park. But with its exodus, new opportunities for the structure have been broached.
Residents are hoping to use the space to lure small businesses or a large-scale artist live/work campus.
“The future is looking great for Highland Park,” O’Dea said. “There are geographic boundaries that limit growth, but I think it will become like a tiny Decatur, Georgia, with an artsy, young, intellectual community.”
But what the neighborhood association can guarantee is that Highland Park won’t be as gentrified as other areas in the city.
“We are constantly having conversations about the way the neighborhood is changing,” she said. “There are a lot of conversations about how to keep it inclusive while still maintaining the character. It’s hugely positive.”
Click here to read more about Highland Park.
Updated @ 3:07 p.m. on 4/24/14 to correct the spelling of Judith Schorr’s name, which was originally spelled “Schoor.”