I am not an "aginner." I'm not one of those people who nay-say every idea to make the community a more enjoyable place to live. I don't have a problem with spending tax dollars on projects whose only benefit is quality of life. And God knows that we have a dearth of greenspace in Charleston and recreation space is at a premium. But there is a project in the works in Charleston right now that is a terribly bad idea on so many levels it's difficult to see how anyone could think it will work.
I'm talking about the park that is being proposed for land that sits tucked away in a dreadful little corner of the East End. Here's an aerial photo. (click to enlarge).
The circled area that sits right across the railroad tracks from Laidley Field is the site that has been proposed for this park. Notice how it is bordered by a very dense neighborhood to the south. Here is a street view of that neighborhood.
This shot is taken one block from what has historically been the worst drug corner in the city: Lewis and Thompson. The row houses you see are along Dixie Street and behind these houses are other houses as you can see in the aerial shot. Almost all of these houses are rental units owned by some of the worst slumlords our city has to offer. Many of these houses have been illegally subdivided into multi-family units and the whole area is as densely populated as any section in the city. And the back doors of these houses look out onto the proposed park site.
So, some reasonable people might say, maybe a park will make a difference. Maybe it will be what the neighborhood needs to turn around. History would predict otherwise:
In the mid 1990's, a fantastic community playground, called "Celebration Station" was built not to far from the proposed park site. This wider aerial shot shows both sites. Celebration Station is at the lower left corner
Celebration Station was an amazing community project that utilized hundreds of volunteers to build an awesome playground adjacent to Piedmont Elementary School. Here is a photo taken there on a recent beautiful early summer evening.
Note how many kids are in the picture? None. Other than the basketball courts, the place is desolate most of the time, except for a few neighbor kids who live directly across the street and some rough talking teenagers that seem to always be around. (shortly after snapping this photo I was nearly hit by a shoe that was thrown in my direction by teenagers who were rough-housing on one of the children's swings - I obviously wasn't welcome on their turf). Trash is strewn about the place and graffiti covers the once-beautiful and ingeniously designed structures that were built with such care and hope. When the place was first opened I would take my kids a few times a month, but as the years went by it felt less and less safe. I don't know anyone who takes their kids there now because it just doesn't feel safe.
And Celebration Station is in a much, much safer and more accessible neighborhood than the proposed park.
People in the East End have been clamoring for recreation facilities for years and years. Mayor Jay Goldman, whenever confronted with these requests, would point at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center and say it was on the East End. Only someone who had always lived in South Hills would consider the King Center, which sits on the bank of the Elk River, as being on the East End.
The residents of the East End need and deserve a park, but not here. Granted, land is in short supply on the East End, and this land has little potential as a business location or other economic development project. But the bottom line is that, if this park is built, will be the most phenomenal waste of money we've seen in decades. And after a while residents of the East End will be run out of this park by the criminal or unseemly element that will no doubt thrive in this isolated part of town with a dense area of low and very low income housing surrounding it. And when they complain that the park has become unusable, the city fathers will say "we built you a nice park and you don't use it!"
My opinion is that this is a ploy to pre-empt the uprising that will certainly occur when the City throws several million dollars into the new library. Either that or it is a misguided attempt to fulfill a Danny Jones campaign promise. Or it might be both. Whatever the motive, it is a bad idea.