Thursday evening, under a cloudy sky and between bouts of rain, a new city park opened in the historically Black 10th and Page neighborhood at the corner of Hardy Drive and Eighth Street Northwest.
Longtime neighborhood resident James Bryant was one of the handful of people who spoke at the humble ceremony. The neighborhood has changed a lot in recent years, said Bryant, and a lot of folks don’t know one another like they used to. He hopes the park will become a meeting place, a space where all 10th and Page neighbors — including residents of the Westhaven public housing development, directly across the street from the park — can gather in community. He then took up a pair of very large scissors and cut the glossy red ribbon — snip — to a round of applause.
And while Bryant’s comments focused on community, there weren’t many neighborhood folks present at the ceremony. Perhaps it was the weather, but, more likely, it’s because residents have mixed opinions, and in some cases, mixed feelings, about the park.
At the park’s center is an open, grassy area (with a few manhole covers) that Timothy Motsch, transportation project manager for the city of Charlottesville, said is meant to encourage free play — kicking around a soccer ball, playing tag, etc. There are a few large stones for sitting and climbing, too, and a couple of kids lept from one to the other at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
A wide, level walking path surrounds all four sides of the grassy area, with benches of a few different lengths on three of those sides. The longest bench, which runs almost the entire length of one of the park’s short sides, has a stone-topped chess table and an additional seat on either end. Players will have to bring or find their own game pieces, though, as the park doesn’t provide any.
There’s a power connection near that long bench as well (one neighborhood resident was pleased to see that she could charge her phone while resting on the bench), which Motsch says will allow for small music shows, public meetings, even public theater performances, among other events.
New trees have been planted along Eighth Street, as well, though it’ll be at least a few years before they provide ample shade. Access to the park is via the sidewalk on Eighth or a concrete staircase at the corner of the park across from the short tunnel under the railroad tracks.
The park was created using $430,687.09 in HUD Community Development Block Grant funds. Starting in 2017, Charlottesville Neighborhood Development Services and Parks & Recreation have collaborated with the 10th and Page neighborhood association, the Community Development Block Grant 10th and Page Taskforce (of which Bryant is a member) and, the city has emphasized, various rounds of input from nearby residents who thought the vacant lots — which once had homes on them — to be an unkempt eyesore.
The city also purchased (with $60,800 in CDBG funds) a 0.165-acre adjacent piece of property from Norfolk Southern Railroad, which, according to the city’s news release about the park, “allowed the conversion of an old concrete drainage culvert into a covered area that is safer and more attractive.”
City of Promise, a child- and family-focused nonprofit in the neighborhood located in a house on Page Street, has a fenced-in backyard that backs up to the park. City of Promise also has a community garden, managed by food justice nonprofit Cultivate Charlottesville, that they use for neighborhood activities. City of Promise executive director Mary Coleman called the park “a total asset.”
“A big, open green space is at a premium in the city,” said Coleman, and having a space like that both in the neighborhood and so close to City of Promise will help them expand their programming. The next closest parks are Washington Park on Preston Avenue and Tonsler Park on Cherry Avenue, she pointed out (there’s Starr Hill park, too, but it’s smaller and just a grassy area). And while Washington and Tonsler are wonderful community gathering spots and easily drivable, they’re not in 10th and Page. City of Promise’s backyard is uneven, making it less than ideal for its annual back-to-school and year-end cookouts and its Easter party. Coleman is excited to hold egg hunts, races and more for neighborhood kids and their families in the park.
Coleman has a few concerns, though. She worries that the dog walkers in the neighborhood — and there are many of them — will use it as a dog park, or, at the very least, leave dog droppings in the park. Coleman doesn’t want kids — or anyone else for that matter — to have to navigate feces when they’re trying to play or relax.
Coleman is also a bit worried about safety. She’d like to see some more signage about the presence of a park, and perhaps a speed bump or two on the surrounding roads to get cars to slow down a bit. Children walk, bike and ride scooters through the neighborhood often, she said, and more kids are likely to do so if the park ends up serving its purpose. But still, she’s excited about what the park offers to the children and families of City of Promise, for the neighborhood in general. “It’s about being a good neighbor.”
A neighborhood resident walking by the ceremony paused to tell Charlottesville Tomorrow that she likes how the park looks, that she knows the people who worked on it put a lot of time and effort into it and she wants it to look “nice all the time, not junky.” She wants to see a trash bin installed at the corner of the park that’s on Eighth Street and Hardy Drive, one that’s bolted down but easy for the city’s trash collectors to access on their routes.
Others agree with her that it looks nice, and very green, even if it looks a bit empty.
But not all residents are happy about the park. Some said they didn’t even know about it until recently.
A few hours before the grand opening, a few Westhaven residents sitting on their covered porches shared their thoughts on the park with Charlottesville Tomorrow.
“We didn’t even know what it was supposed to be,” said one resident, to nods of agreement from the woman sitting next to her.
“No ma’am,” said a man walking Down Hardy Drive when asked if he’d heard about the park.
“What park?” asked an older woman. When Charlottesville Tomorrow explained that there was a new park at the end of Hardy Drive, she said, “It should be for the kids. That’s what I think.”
A resident of one of the Westhaven apartments closest to the park called it “a waste.” He’s not opposed to the idea of a park at the site, but as it is, the park isn’t all that useful or welcoming, he implied. There are no bathrooms, no trash cans and the trees that’ve been planted won’t supply shade for at least a few years, he pointed out, adding that kids aren’t going to want to play in the full sun all the time. He wondered why there isn’t any playground equipment for kids, since that’s who the park should be for.
“People are just going to hang out and create problems,” he added, wondering who would be enforcing park hours (it will close at dusk like all city parks), and whether that would just increase police presence in the neighborhood, which has experienced an uptick of violence, particularly shootings, in recent months. He said he doesn’t want to see that migrate down Hardy Drive and into the park. “We’ll see what happens,” he said.
This resident was also bothered by the fact that the park is opening without a name.
Naming the park is the next step, and the city wants community input on that, said city park and trails planner Chris Gensic.
The city’s park policy on park naming states that “as a general policy, parks shall be named in accordance with geographical, historical or ecological features indigenous to the park site or to the immediate vicinity of the site. Parks may be named for an individual under the following conditions: 1. Where the individual has made a significant gift of land for park purposes to the City, or 2. In memoriam for an individual who has made a significant contribution to the park system of the City of Charlottesville. 3. For an individual who has made” a significant contribution or contributions to the community’s quality of life.
Community members are encouraged to submit their name ideas directly to Gensic (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will then consider the suggestions and make a decision, unless the City Council or city manager says in writing that they would like final say on the naming.
Joy Johnson, a longtime Westhaven resident who is also the co-founder and president of the board of the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR), opposed the park along with a number of others associated with the organization. Though Johnson was technically named to the park taskforce, she still opposed the project, saying that the location is not ideal for a number of reasons and that the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) could have used some of that money to rehabilitate the playgrounds in Westhaven.
Johnson did not attend Thursday’s ceremony, and she worries about parkgoers asking to use the bathrooms at the Westhaven community center and about those who drive cars to the park taking up spaces that should be for Westhaven residents.
But more than anything, Johnson thinks the land should have been used to build affordable housing.
After all, the city used its affordable housing fund to purchase the land.
During her term on the City Council (2008-2011) and after, former Vice Mayor, Westhaven clinic nurse and housing advocate Holly Edwards encouraged the city to buy the parcels that now make up the park and use them to build more housing. Years ago, there was at least one house where the park is now, but it was reportedly water damaged due to regular flooding.
“There were attempts to place housing on the lots, but the 15-inch sewer line that runs under the site, as well as additional drainage constraints, did not allow for that use,” said Missy Creasy, assistant director of Neighborhood Development Services.
As noted in the Cvillepedia article on the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund, during fiscal year 2012, the council appropriated $140,000 from the fund to purchase two properties on Eighth Street Northwest in advance of Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority redevelopment.
The following year, the council voted to allocate $271,000 from the fund to pay for construction of a facility for City of Promise (the community garden at 210 Eighth St. NW), and agreed to pay costs associated with accepting lots on Eighth from Habitat for Humanity to be used for green space. Then-Councilor Dave Norris said it was not a good use of the housing fund and voted against it.
“I know that Holly Edwards and others felt that if affordable housing funds were used to buy the properties, then the properties should be used for affordable/mixed-income housing,” Norris told Charlottesville Tomorrow.
(The City of Promise garden is managed by food justice nonprofit Cultivate Charlottesville. City of Promise uses the garden as part of its nutrition program, showing children and their families how to prepare and eat fresh and healthy food, and also provides some fresh, organic produce to the neighborhood.)
A lifelong 10th and Page resident who attended the ceremony for a few minutes before going to talk with Johnson on the Westhaven community center porch area, said she wasn’t 100% for the park; she was maybe 50-50 in favor of/against it, at best. She asked that we not use her name, but she shares many of her neighbors’ concerns regarding safety, including ones about speed limits, and she’d like to see more lighting in particular.
She’s also curious to see who uses it and how. She knew some residents wanted it while others didn’t, but the city really wanted it, she said with a slight shrug.
“But now that it’s here, we have to make the most of it.”