Midtown Muse

Midtown Muse: Chavis Park deserves city’s attention

May 12, 2014 

  • Join the action

    Listen: Tune in to UpFront! on WSHA 88.9 FM from 9-10 a.m. Saturday to hear PLG members talk about their experiences.

    Attend: The City Council will hear from PLG members on May 20 at 1 p.m. in the Council chambers, 222 W. Hargett St., Raleigh.

Cecilia Zuvic is stirring up a healthy pot of Just Do It.

She’s created yard signs and fliers, launched email and social media campaigns, and she’s gotten over 100 signatures, in less than a week, on a Change.org petition. It’s all with hopes of beefing up support from Southeast Raleigh and Midtown residents for the revised master plan for John Chavis Memorial Park she and other members of the 18-member Public Leadership Group have spent the past two years developing.

“If you want something in your city or your region you have to be part of the process; get involved, work on it, make your voice heard and stay committed to it,” she said. “It makes me feel a little more powerful that I can make a difference.”

In fact, Zuvic said, downtown Raleigh revitalization is forever incomplete until Chavis Park is part of the blueprint. “If you love downtown so much, come help me support John Chavis Memorial Park,” she said.

On May 20, the Raleigh City Council is expected to take action on the Chavis Park plan to be presented by PLG members, who were led through the Chavis Park Community Conversation planning process by park planners with the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department. The 1 p.m. meeting will be in City Council Chambers at the Raleigh Municipal Building on West Hargett Street.

Zuvic, who’s joined by other PLG members, hopes we’ll show up in Council Chambers, on the petition or in emails urging council’s approval.

On Saturday, we can tune in to UpFront! on WSHA 88.9 FM from 9-10 a.m. to hear five PLG members discuss their experience in the process and recommendations for the Revised Master Plan. A call-in segment is included.

In March, the group presented the Revised Master Plan to the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board. That board approved the Chavis Park plan and recommended it also be adopted by the City Council.

Chavis Park's Master Plan was first created in 1971. It was last revised in 1994.

That plan came under fire after leaders of the South Park East Raleigh Neighborhood Association complained the city’s plan was clandestine, at best, in its omission of community input, and largely ignored preservation of the park’s history as the only park to welcome black people between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.

City Council approved a proclamation to reaffirm the park's original name, John Chavis Memorial Park, in March 2013, two months before the park’s 75th anniversary.

The revised plan centers on the park’s heritage and implement new features. Among the highlights: improved access, an indoor/outdoor aquatics center, a wheeled train, activity plazas to gather and celebrate, play corridors, sports and fitness areas, outdoor education in nature spaces, and restoration and stewardship of natural spaces.

“It’s really cool to be at the point where we have this great plan we’re all backing 100 percent,” PLG member Jackee Howell said. “We want to make it a park where people stay and play.”

On June 12, a NC State Historic Preservation Office panel is expected to decide on the group’s application for the park’s designation as a Traditional Cultural Property, a listing that speaks, not to a specific building or feature, but instead to the place itself, as a gathering place, said Emily Ander, a city park planner who oversaw the Chavis Park project. There are only three cultural properties designated in North Carolina, she said. In 1991, the surrounding East Raleigh-South Park neighborhood secured National Register designation. Because that designation was limited to housing architecture, the park was excluded.

“It’s unique for a park to be designated that way,” Ander said. “This is a really space place, not because of its features alone it was a social gathering place, and it has a significance to the community, both locally and regionally, across the state and part of the southeast.

“People are so passionate about and connected to it,” she said. “It has a story no other parks have.”

Zuvic, a native of Argentina, has lived in Southeast Raleigh eight of the 15 years she’s lived in the U.S. Citizens boards don’t happen in Argentina, Zuvic said, “but it’s something new here in Raleigh, too.”

“The process was a long process, but it was very well thought out; it was very thorough,” said Zuvic. “We did have our hard discussions and disappointments, but it was a very successful way of getting the neighborhood together and developing a plan that, if it goes through, the community is going o feel good about it and they’re going to feel represented.

“This Master Plan was done by the neighbors, with the neighbors’ input – from scratch,” she said. “It is fresh air.”

Lori D.R. Wiggins writes about the people and places of Midtown. Contact her via email at ldrwigg@gmail.com.

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