Parks & Rec on the hot seat at Southside Town Hall

ON MESSAGE: City Parks & Recreation Director Roderick Simmons told Southside community members he understands that many feel the city hasn't followed through on promises for recreational facilities in the neighborhood. Photo by Virginia Daffron
ON MESSAGE: City Parks & Recreation Director Roderick Simmons told Southside community members he understands that many feel the city hasn't followed through on promises for recreational facilities in the neighborhood. Photo by Virginia Daffron

We’ve been through tons of meetings … and I felt that the community was at the table every single step of way. Unfortunately, that’s not how the community felt.

— Roderick Simmons, Asheville Parks & Recreation Director

Billed as a Southside Community Town Hall meeting, a Jan. 31 public input session to discuss recreational facilities in the Southside neighborhood drew a crowd of over 100. A city announcement for the session, held at the Arthur R. Edington Center on Livingston Street, outlined three topics for discussion: “The location of a new pool for the Southside community, a more attractive Walton Street Park and the next phase for the Grant Southside Center.”

While city staff wanted to move forward on gathering input on new facilities, however, community members had other ideas.

CROWD CONTROL: Over 100 people gathered in the gym of the Edington Center on Livingston Street for the town hall meeting. Photo by Virginia Daffron
CROWD CONTROL: Over 100 people gathered in the gym of the Edington Center on Livingston Street for the town hall meeting. Photo by Virginia Daffron

 

Many members of the public spoke of decades of broken promises made by the city during and after its campaign of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s. Several referenced the destruction of many of the physical manifestations of the community’s African-American history, saying Walton Street pool is an irreplaceable reminder of the history of segregation and community resilience. “Walton Street is a historic site and it should have a historic marker right now, today,” said Willie Mae Brown.

SENSE OF HISTORY: Willie Mae Brown argued that the historical significance of the Walton Street pool should not be overlooked. Photo by Virginia Daffron
SENSE OF HISTORY: Willie Mae Brown argued that the historical significance of the Walton Street pool should not be overlooked. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Renee White, president of the East End Neighborhood Association, said she stands in solidarity with the Southside community, as well as with other historically African-American neighborhoods in Shiloh and Burton Street. “The East End has been lied to,” she said. “You put Stephens-Lee [Recreation Center] under the control of Parks and Rec. It was ours from the beginning. Experience has taught me the city just tells lies.”

LIED TO: Renee White, president of the East End Neighborhood Association, called the city to task for misinformation and broken promises. Photo by Virginia Daffron
LIED TO: Renee White, president of the East End Neighborhood Association, called the city to task for misinformation and broken promises. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Oralene Simmons, a leader in the local African-American community and a retired Parks & Recreation department staffer, said the community had been promised an indoor pool facility at both the Livingston Street Center (now the Edington Center) and the Montford Recreation Center over the years. Neither has been built. “I am very saddened at what our recreation programs have become,” she said.

ACTIVITY DIRECTOR: Oralene Simmons, a retired city employee, asked Parks & Rec Director Roderick Simmons how he plans to rebuild trust in the community. Photo by Virginia Daffron
ACTIVITY DIRECTOR: Oralene Simmons, a retired city employee, asked Parks & Rec Director Roderick Simmons how he plans to rebuild trust in the community. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Some commenters expressed fear that traffic on Livingston Street will continue to increase as redevelopment in the River Arts District moves forward, creating a safety hazard for children walking to the Grant Center site from the area surrounding the Walton Street pool. Others said city assertions that the Walton Street facility is underutilized need to be seen in the context of limited operating hours, use of the facility by summer camp programs and the fees charged.

Raymond Harrell, who has managed the Walton Street pool for the city every summer for the past 20 years, pushed back against claims that the facility is monopolized by summer camp programs or that people are turned away because they can’t pay. He said when kids come without money, “more times than not I let them in for free,” only requiring the kids to pick up trash or do other chores to earn the entry fee. Harrell advocated focusing on moving forward rather than being distracted by broken promises or conspiracy theories. “We can complain about all the things that haven’t happened in the past,” said Harrell, whose full-time job is magistrate. “All the fussing in the world won’t make a bit of difference if you don’t show up.”

SWIMMING LESSONS: Magistrate Raymond Harrell said he's managed the Walton Street pool for the city for the past 20 years. Photo by Virginia Daffron
SWIMMING LESSONS: Magistrate Raymond Harrell said he’s managed the Walton Street pool for the city for the past 20 years. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Council member Keith Young echoed that sentiment after the meeting, conceding that he understands people need an opportunity to express past frustrations. Still, he said, he wants to put his energy toward coming up with the best solution for the community given the availability of the bond funding and opportunities presented by development in adjacent areas.

Copies of a printed survey soliciting input on Walton Park and Grant Southside Center were available for attendees to complete. In addition to questions, the survey summarized the status of the issues under consideration.

COMING TOGETHER: Local historian Priscilla Ndiaye, who also chairs the Southside Advisory Board, thanked community members for coming and stressed the importance of their participation in the process. Photo by Virginia Daffron
COMING TOGETHER: Local historian Priscilla Ndiaye, who also chairs the Southside Advisory Board, thanked community members for coming and stressed the importance of their participation in the process. Photo by Virginia Daffron

The Parks and Recreation Department has funds budgeted to replace the pool at Walton Park at 570 Oakland Road. However, the passage of $18 million in funding for parks and recreation facilities in the city’s 2016 bond referendum — which includes money for the second phase of the nearby Wesley Grant Southside Center on Livingston Street — has spurred city planners to consider a new question: should the city rebuild or replace the 1938 Walton Street pool, or relocate the swimming facility to the Grant Center site? What facilities and programming would the community like to see in the Southside neighborhood?

Roderick Simmons concluded the meeting by urging those present to turn in their completed surveys, and for those who were unable to attend to submit input online at the city’s Open City Hall website by Feb. 18. Written responses can be turned in at the Grant Center or the Edington Center. A followup meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Feb. 28 at the Grant Southside Center.

 

See also: No closure of Walton Street Pool, says Simmons of Parks & Rec, Feb. 2, 2016.

 

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About Virginia Daffron
Associate Editor and News Reporter. Lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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3 thoughts on “Parks & Rec on the hot seat at Southside Town Hall

  1. Richard B.

    It is much more fun to carp and rant about one’s pet peeves, taking up valuable time set aside for planning future projects, than to actually
    do the mental work necessary to participate in such an important community goal. It is about thinking how to organize people and assets to achieve the community goals, something the attendees seem to not either know how to do (thus the evasive tactics of persevering about the distant past), or do not care to do, preferring to purge to achieve their own goals of feeling better. How selfish. How stupid. Here is the opportunity to do something for their kids and they cannot get off their own crosses that they carry everywhere and allow to define who they are. Sad.

  2. ApePeeD

    Yeah uh maybe if the kids weren’t waving guns in the air, we’d actually do things like build public pools.

  3. Big Al

    “Oralene SIMMONS, a retired city employee, asked Parks & Rec Director Roderick SIMMONS how he plans to rebuild trust in the community.”

    Sounds like FAMILY grievances (as well as racial and political ones) being brought into a public discussion.

    Like crabs in a barrel.

    Again.

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