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Highland Park neighbors enjoy each other's company on the front porch at the home of Christopher Gehrke, picture crouching in the middle. Also pictured is Emerson Burch at bottom left.

People from an array of cultures, age groups and tax brackets combine to create the vibrant Highland Park, a tight-knit community in east-central Chattanooga.

"It really embodies what neighborhoods mean in your imagination," says homeowner Emerson Burch. "I always say that if you live in Highland Park, it's OK to ask for people's addresses. It really has that hospitality piece on lockdown."

While downtown attractions are just two miles to the west, Burch says the relationships he's built in Highland Park give him little reason to stray far from home.

"In Highland Park, my favorite bar is someone's porch," he says. "My front porch is the most-used room in my house — I'm always meeting new people on my porch. It really is a cool community in that respect."

Unlike most Chattanooga neighborhoods, Highland Park's approximately 900 homes are organized within a city grid, with east and west boundaries defined by Willow Street and Holtzclaw Avenue, and McCallie Avenue and Main Street to the north and south.

Burch, who's also president of the neighborhood association, says he was drawn to Highland Park's diversity and urban feel when he moved to Chattanooga 13 years ago.

"I was like, 'wow,' this was a community that had a more representative population of the city," he says. "Also, I love that it was super-convenient. It's a great neighborhood when it comes to getting access to the whole city."

Shaw Park, Tatum Park and the Highland Park Commons, a soccer complex with a playground, provide ample opportunities for recreation, relaxation or community picnics.

Mexican and Guatemalan grocery stores offer fresh veggies and cultural foods, and if you're not looking to cook, Burch recommends San Marcos Restaurant and Chattanooga Wing Factory.

"It's neat to always have access to something that's not the meat-and-three American food," he says.

Although Burch doesn't have children, as a member of the community PTA, he says the schools have found creative ways to make more out of less. Like last summer, when a group of friends worked to make over Orchard Knob Middle School's library.

"Despite not having the money to have an exceptional library, they have the social capital to engage with residents to the point where we could dramatically transform that space," he says, adding that this is just one example of Highland Park's active can-do, service-oriented mentality.

"This is not a community of wealthy people. It's a community of very normal people who, I think, are doing a lot of exceptional things. I see a really great collection of people who are contributing in ways that folks would never know," says Burch. "They're doing it because they love their city. They love their neighbors."

BY THE NUMBERS

WHO WE ARE

Population: 2,585

Median age: 43

Homeowners: 36%

Source: NeighborhoodScout

WHERE WE LIVE

Median home price: $122,160

Median rental price: $1,002

Source: NeighborhoodScout

» Development spillover from Chattanooga's Southside is leading to the restoration of many of the historic homes in this area along with new construction. Highland Park is especially popular among college students and young couples.

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The Mai Bell holds 49 units: 41 one-bedroom units, six two-bedrooms units, and two three-bedrooms. Eleven of the units are income-restricted for lower-income households.
DEVELOPMENT COMING

Last year, the nonprofit Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise built a 49-unit apartment building called The Mai Bell and is now proposing construction of 14 new apartment units and commercial space on a nearby vacant lot, pending approval from the regional planning commission. CNE is dedicated to creating "economically diverse neighborhoods filled with financially empowered neighbors and housing for all" and, as such, either includes or targets lower-income families with its projects. Proponents of CNE's ongoing projects in the neighborhood believe they will bring revitalization and affordable housing to the area, while some neighbors fear they could alter the neighborhood's aesthetic.

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Patricia Burns jumps on a trampoline with her son Shermain Meenifee.

OUR SCHOOLS

Orchard Knob Elementary (preK-5)

Population: 454

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 4/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

East Side Elementary (K-5)

Population: 627

Proficiency (TVAAS): 4/5 overall, 5/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

Orchard Knob Middle

Population: 417

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 1/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

The Howard School

Population: 853

Proficiency (TVAAS): 1/5 overall, 2/5 in literacy, 1/5 in numeracy

ACT scores: 15.4 composite, 14.1 in English, 16.1 in math, 14.6 in reading, 16.1 in science

» In an effort to get more local students career-ready, Howard is one of a handful of schools across the district to receive the first round of Future Ready Institutes. At Howard, the Erlanger Institute for Healthcare and Innovation and the Institute of Hospitality and Tourism will open by the end of the 2017-18 school year, giving students not only hands-on experience and directly transferable skills, but the opportunity to network with and learn from business leaders in the community.

*The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scale runs from 1-5, with 1 denoting the least effective schools/districts and least amount of progress toward the Standard for Academic Growth.

COMING SOON

Highland Park will see the addition of a new all-boys school opening in August 2018. Beginning with 60 sixth-graders, Chattanooga Prep charter school hopes to help boys from all backgrounds reach their potential, replicating the success of neighboring all-girls charter school Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. CGLA is one of four schools nationwide to receive the 2017 School Innovation and Change Award for transforming schools previously designated as failing.

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