June 1, 2022
by Sharon Smith | photographs by Justin Driscoll
Sounds of summer fill Pearl Street Park once again following a yearslong, multimillion-dollar renovation project.
The scene is relaxed and carefree, as one would expect at any public park this time of year. But don’t be fooled by its easy appeal. Mecklenburg County’s new-and-improved Pearl Street Park is full of intention. Its design is an acknowledgment of Charlotte’s segregated history and Brooklyn, the vibrant Black community that flourished around the original park that opened in 1943.
The basketball and pickleball courts are painted a bright blue to reflect the school colors of Second Ward High School, which used the practice fields here because the segregated school had no ballfields for its athletes. There’s the gleaming tower sculpture by the soccer fields, Brooklyn Stories, by California artist Cliff Garten, who has other public art installations along the light rail and Levine Avenue of the Arts.
Brooklyn Stories is covered with quotes by former Brooklyn residents reminiscing about the close-knit community that was razed to make way for new development. “There is still this memory of what this place was,” Garten says. “So I wanted to find a way to communicate their stories.”
Today, the 11-acre green space attracts a range of parkgoers: couples walking their dogs, parents watching their kids play soccer, young men sweating it out in a game of pickup basketball.
The park is a connector, just like it was for neighbors 80 years ago. With the Metropolitan retail center and Little Sugar Creek Greenway across the street, the future development of Atrium Health’s innovation district (named The Pearl) nearby, and more uptown condo projects on the rise, Pearl Street Park offers an urban oasis.
As a quote by former Brooklyn resident Doris Parker Williams reads on Brooklyn Stories, “My hopes for the future are … I would like to see neighborhoods that were like the Brooklyn community. The closeness, everybody helped everybody, you know.” May it be so. SP