Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Highland Park Neighborhood Association

Highland Park Residents join together for an ice cream social
at the Highland Park Neighborhood Center
Neighborhood associations exist to help neighbors meet one another, socialize, get along, and work towards common goals. They are designed to bring the community together, whether it's for a monthly supper club or to create a dedicated task force against crime. Whatever the needs of the local residents, a neighborhood association is there to work with the city government and nearby businesses to ensure the neighborhood develops in such a way that the interests of its residents are maintained. They aren't the same as home owners' associations, or HOAs, which tend to be in newer neighborhoods or planned communities. HOAs tend to be more dedicated to keeping up the aesthetic and safety standards built in to the developer's vision of the neighborhood. A good, dedicated neighborhood association that is well-attended, well-run and well-accomplished is a rare and wonderful asset that truly enriches a place.
Highland Park resident Jack Money serenades
the neighborhood at an impromptu Forth of July celebration
Highland Park in downtown Chattanooga has a truly great neighborhood association. It was started originally in conjunction with the neighborhood watch and its primary goal was to reduce crime. When  the Highland Park Neighborhood Association was born in 1990, the Tennessee Aquarium had not yet transformed the downtown business district into the safe, clean, green tourist destination it is today. The North Shore was still run down and seedy, and had not yet been reborn as one of Chattanooga's first flourishing art districts. Chattanooga was still very much bogged down in its gritty, polluted history as a post-industrial town. Highland Park was one of the first neighborhoods to set about revitalization efforts  in a city that has since become known for bringing its historic neighborhoods back one by one. The HP Neighborhood Association website explains its decades-long history,
"In August of 1990 Ginnie Tatum had had enough [of crime, dereliction, drug dealers, and prostitutes] and went door to door with a handmade flyer inviting concerned citizens to meet together and discuss the situation in the neighborhood. The Highland Park Neighborhood Watch Association was born and a first meeting was attended by nine people. The group met in various places including the Lion’s Club and the Girl’s Club on Greenwood Avenue. In March of 1991 the first election was held and Judith Schorr was elected president. The neighborhood group became more active and collected 700 signatures to present to the city to obtain R-1 zoning. A large group began attending City Council meetings wearing red, white, and blue t-shirts stating "I support Highland Park Neighborhood Watch." These shirts became well known throughout the city!"
Thanks to the active support of its residents and the tireless work of the HP Neighborhood Association to work with Tennessee Temple University, the City of Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Police, and neighboring businesses, Highland Park has come a long way. Many of the grand old homes have been revitalized, and the HP Neighborhood Association has been able to add beautification projects and socials to its calendar. Highland Park house flags, street sign toppers, and signs demarcating the borders of the neighborhood have all been put in place in recent years, increasing neighborhood pride and a sense of place.

A photo from a local resident's baby shower, hosted at
the Highland Park Neighborhood Center, which can be
rented for private functions as well as neighborhood business
The Neighborhood Association website is regularly updated with news from neighbors and local media outlets about the neighborhood and what its residents are up to. Whether Kevin Bate is painting a new mural, the neighborhood is getting new sewers, Olga de Klein is yarnbombing downtown, the opening of the Highland Park Commons, or Sheldon Grizzle is delivering a speech at SXSW, there is a lot to be proud of for local friends and neighbors. It's nice to know what those nearby are up to professionally and in the community, and all the positive press has made significant changes to the neighborhood's reputation. Once thought of only as "the ghetto" Highland Park is increasingly seen as a diverse, convenient, caring community with an active interest in continued improvement.

Whether you are looking for a neighborhood where you can get involved, are starting a neighborhood association in your own neck of the woods, or are simply happy to hear about progress in your home town, Highland Park and its neighborhood association are a great example to look to.