Midtown Muse

Wiggins: Master plan for John Chavis Memorial Park gets scrutiny

CorrespondentNovember 29, 2013 

  • If you go

    What: Public review of master plan for John Chavis Memorial Park

    When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10

    Where: John Chavis Community Center at John Chavis Memorial Park, 505 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Raleigh

    A draft of the John Chavis Memorial Park Master Plan can be found on the city of Raleigh’s project website for the Chavis Park Community Conversation Project at www.raleighnc.gov/arts/content/PRecDesignDevelop/Articles/ChavisParkCommunityConversation.html.

During the past year, an 18-member planning committee formed and broke barriers of age, race and culture. They read and researched a lot to learn more. They met monthly to discuss, debate and design a master plan for John Chavis Memorial Park, a place with 75 years of history as the only park open to black people from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta.

Now, the fruit of their labor is ready for public consumption.

On Tuesday, a first draft of the master plan was unveiled online, where it will remain through Dec. 17, city park planner Emily Ander said.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, though, all of us can show up at the Chavis Community Center from 6:30-8:30 p.m. to weigh in on the work done by the Public Leadership Group, led by park planners with the city of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. There also will be a children’s table at the meeting to get input from youths on a park built for them, too.

The PLG will review and incorporate – or not – public input Jan. 14. Two more drafts are expected to emerge as a result.

“It’s been really neat to work with such a diverse group of people because the people at the table have different ideas about what they want to see,” Ander said. “There is a fine line between those who grew up in the park and have rich, wonderful memories and want to see more activity there, and those who are new to the area and have nothing to compare it to except the 75th anniversary celebration.

“There was a lot of moving forward and slowing down, which, in the end, has been good,” Ander said. “It’s growing pains.”

In addition, the group also is overseeing the process of getting the park listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In 1991, the park’s surrounding East Raleigh-South Park neighborhood secured National Registry designation. Because that designation was limited to housing architecture, the park was excluded.

Finding a way to honor the park’s history and its future isn’t easy.

“We’ve definitely been in situations where we’ve had contrasting opinions, and it’s been an amazing process to work through some of those natural challenges of different visions for the park and coming to a place where we’ve reached consensus to work together,” said Jackee Howell, 35, who moved to the Chavis Park area about 2 ½ years ago.

Howell joined the PLG because of “the natural elements and beauty of the park and some areas that have room for potential” she noticed on trips there with her daughter for swimming lessons.

“I’m excited to be a part of something bigger than figuring out what kind of playground equipment,” she said, adding she looks forward to a chance to share “the choices we’ve made and the consensus we built around some of those decisions that weren’t really easy decisions.”

While Howell looks forward to showcasing for the public, especially through social media, how the group has incorporated some historical elements with an eye on preserving some things and memorializing others, Lonnette Williams fears too many historical elements remain missing.

What the public will review, she said, omits some of the community’s wish list, including a train, a replica of a WWII airplane in honor of the park’s history of housing veterans and their families, or a place for music in the park.

“It is truly just a draft,” said Williams, who helped spur the PLG process. “It does not highlight some of the things so many people said they want in the park.

“As much as we discussed them and as excited as people were about those things, what I want to see happen with those ideas is that they be incorporated into the final draft,” Williams said. “We’re hoping the public will address those things December 10 and specifically state what they want.”

PLG member Rob Wylie, who moved his family to the area seven years ago, believes the final draft will capture Chavis Park’s past, present and future.

“I think we’re going to really make a master plan that people are going to be happy with,” said Wylie, 34. “It honors the history of the park, and it’s also going to make the park an exciting new place for future generations.”


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