Highland Park is one of Chattanooga's first suburbs, developed in the late 19th century and throughout the early 20th century during Chattanooga's vibrant post-Civil War boom years. As Chattanooga earned a national reputation as "The Dynamo of Dixie," a growing middle class needed close access to downtown out of reach of regular floods and outbreaks of Yellow Fever. Connected to the business district and riverside manufacturing by street cars and paved roads, Highland Park quickly filled out with respectable family homes and a few stately corner showplaces, and the neighborhood was flush with locally owned stores and restaurants.
Highland Park's character changed over the decades as the Chattanooga metropolitan area grew north and east. In the 1950s Brainerd was a more favorable area, where Brainerd Road was a popular main drag with teenagers and young people who enjoyed cruising and the new car culture. Highland Park eventually lost the streetcars that had made it so convenient to early residents, and lost some of its population to new suburbs built by the popular Hamilton Place and Northgate malls, as well as to white flight in the 1970s and 80s. Whole blocks of the neighborhood were demolished to make room for Tennessee Temple University in the 1970s and many of the beautiful old homes fell into disrepair or were condemned.
Though Highland Park earned a reputation for many years as a bad part of town struggling with crime, it has seen a successful revitalization driven primarily from within by the dedication of its neighborhood association. Judith Schorr, a long-time Highland Park resident, organized an effective neighborhood watch campaign that eventually drew support from the City government and Chattanooga police departments. Together they eliminated a number of drug houses and reduced crime and prostitution. By the 1990s, home buyers and investors were looking at Highland Park once more, restoring many of the homes and sometimes flipping them as part of the '90s real estate boom.
The economic collapse in 2008 slowed down much of the country, but had a lighter effect in Highland Park. The neighborhood's upward momentum has remained steady, with many young families and professionals moving in to take advantage of what originally made the neighborhood so popular-- it's proximity to downtown jobs, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and three nearby hospitals. While other Chattanooga neighborhoods have suffered from the homogenizing effects of gentrification, Highland Park residents have engaged in active discussions about how to avoid the negative effects of gentrification while also continuing to improve quality of life, safety, and municipal resources in the area. The neighborhood association has remained active, shifting its focus from being solely on the neighborhood watch to cultivating a fun, friendly, and close knit neighborhood culture.
With regular ice cream socials, block parties, neighborhood meetings, and cookouts in Tatum Park, there are plenty of ways for neighbors to connect and contribute. Many often remark that Highland Park is a real "cup of sugar" neighborhood where your neighbors are eager to help you out. Kids play up and down the street in good weather. Recently Highland Park has also become an attractive destination for creatives moving to Chattanooga. Many artists have been lured to the neighborhood by its low cost of living, proximity to downtown, and gently funky spirit. Prominent Chattanooga artists who call Highland Park home include Kevin Bate, who is behind several large-scale murals around town featuring local and national celebrities that have been part of place-making efforts, as well as Olga de Klein, a beloved yarn bomber and mixed media artist. Other prominent Highland Park creatives include Anna Carll, the Ruiz brothers, Meghan O'Dea, and Eric Smith of the Artifact art collective.
The neighborhood's storied history promises a great new era ahead. With the recent departure of Tennessee Temple University, the neighborhood has an opportunity to attract new businesses and organizations to make use of the old campus buildings, which could bring great positive economic impact to the area. As interest in living downtown has surged with the Chattanooga tech boom, Highland Park is an increasingly attractive neighborhood that offers the best of urban living balanced by a friendly, community feel. Homes continue to be renovated and a number of new, historically-appropriate homes are being built as well, filling in the gaps left during Highland Park's leaner times and lost original structures. With so much positive energy and engaged residents, Highland Park is one of the great success stories of the Chattanooga renaissance.