Charlotte is ranked 97th out of 100 cities for its parks, according to the Trust for Public Land – another list that we find ourselves on the bottom of. At the same time, the county’s Livable Meck plan calls for an increase in greenspace to “celebrate and integrate history, culture, and diversity” as among its core strategies to enhance our quality of life. How then can the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners be considering reducing Marshall Park to just one-third of what it is now?
One word: profit. Our quality of life is apparently for sale.
At a time when reconciliation for past mistakes is front and center, we should be protecting the community assets that bring us together and which honor those, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., who boldly led the advancement of civil rights, and racial and economic equality. Marshall Park has been the site of hundreds of public gatherings, community meetings, vigils and no doubt countless other private moments by individuals who visit the park’s Holocaust memorial and the statue of Dr. King.
I am a native Charlottean, but I just learned about the devastating effects of urban renewal carried out by local leaders supported by federal programs in the 1960s. Brooklyn in Second Ward was leveled and its long-time residents driven from their homes and businesses. Over a decade, 1,480 structures, including numerous black churches, were torn down; the city then sold off the acreage to developers and others – including a historically white church, First Baptist – so its congregation could expand. The city never built new housing for Brooklyn residents.
Now a developer has purchased what was formerly Brooklyn and Marshall Park; its plan will reinvigorate Second Ward with housing, retail and offices. The plans call for a paltry 1.77-acre patch of green. A better approach: Within this new development, Marshall Park can become a vital gathering place for everyone.
As Charlotteans, we find ourselves confronting opportunities to forge a future that is inclusive, compassionate and equitable. I hope the Board of County Commissioners will save Marshall Park. As we have learned from the first destruction of Brooklyn, once it’s gone, it never comes back.
Langston is a civic volunteer and non-profit professional who lives in Plaza-Midwood.