“Are they our family, too?”
It’s a question Olivia Clark (pictured above) gets often when she and her daughters walk down the street. In the three years her family has lived in the Highland Park neighborhood of Chattanooga, Olivia has introduced Cora, 8, and Tessa, 6, to many people who live nearby — not as neighbors, but as members of a family.
Situated about two miles east of downtown Chattanooga, Highland Park was established in 1889, making it one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It is currently undergoing a revitalization process and has attracted residents from all backgrounds and walks of life who are drawn in by its history and sense of community.
“We chose Highland Park because we wanted our girls to make connections,” Olivia says. “We wanted a place with an urban design where you could walk through your neighborhood and meet people. I grew up that way, and it’s important to me that they have that, too.”
A new place to strengthen community ties
Olivia and her husband, Toby, foster that sense of community in many ways. They go caroling during the holidays, Olivia serves on the board of the neighborhood association, and she takes her girls with her to every meeting.
“I like them to experience all the facets of a neighborhood — even the boring ones,” Olivia says, laughing. “Our last meeting was anything but boring, though, because we got a sneak peak of the new BlueCross Healthy Place being built just down the street from us.”
The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation is investing $5 million to create the BlueCross Healthy Place at Highland Park , the first project of its kind in Chattanooga. Features in the new space will include:
- Pavilion for community gatherings
- Basketball and tennis courts
- Walking track
- Inclusive playgrounds for children 2-5 and 5-12
- Electronically timed 40-yard dash and challenge courses
- Adult fitness stations
- Multipurpose field with seating and concession area
“The girls were squealing when they saw the pictures,” Olivia says. “Cora was most excited about the 40-yard dash, and she was pumped to see all the things she can climb on. Tessa was excited about having a park we might let her walk to alone one day.”
Tessa’s dreams have a good chance of coming true. Olivia can see Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy (CGLA), a local charter school where the BlueCross Healthy Place is being built, from her porch. A makeup artist who moonlights as a substitute teacher, she has a soft spot for the park’s location.
“We’re so close to CGLA we can hear the kids laughing as they change classes and cheering when it snows,” she says. “It’s fun to feel that youthful energy, and everyone in the neighborhood is thrilled about the new home of the BlueCross Healthy Place. It’s going to give the neighborhood an open, active space, of course, but it’s also providing that to two very important schools that are giving kids the opportunities they deserve.”
Students at CGLA and Chattanooga Preparatory School, a neighboring boys’ school, will both be able to utilize the space when the project is completed.
Opportunity meets connection
The campus buildings of CGLA and Chattanooga Prep previously housed Tennessee Temple University, and despite being in great condition, they likely would’ve been torn down had the schools not put them to use. Each school opened with one grade, adding a new grade every year, and CGLA will graduate its first class of seniors this year.
Olivia is quick to highlight this information, as are her neighbors. It’s another sign of how invested community members have been in their neighborhood from day one.
“At the boys’ school, the city comes out to cheer them on the first day of school,” she says. “The boys are dressed to the nines in their school uniforms — shirt and tie — and you can just tell they’re being given all the tools they’ll need to be successful.”
Connections are integral to Highland Park’s tight-knit vibe, and Olivia looks forward to forging new ones with neighbors of all ages when the BlueCross Healthy Place opens.
“I can already envision walking around the track and meeting retirees who’ll use the space to get a little exercise, or new moms who will come out and stroll their newborns just to get out of the house and regain some of their sanity,” she says, again with a laugh.
“I can see it being a place that will connect all of us. It’s things like this that make us want to live here forever.”