Atlanta aims to lead in parks and recreation development

By Guest Columnist AMY PHUONG, commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation

A little more than a year ago, I was named commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation by Mayor Kasim Reed and charged with enhancing the City of Atlanta’s parks and recreational programming. From day one, I have made it my top priority to grow and enhance greenspace, increase operational efficiencies and look at all park and recreational development through a broader lens to ensure sustainability for generations to come.

To appreciate where we are today, we must take stock of where we were several years ago.

Amy Phuong

Amy Phuong

In 2010, the City of Atlanta experienced the worst financial crisis in more than 80 years. Despite this reality, under Mayor Reed’s leadership, the Department of Parks and Recreation invested an additional $1 million in parks that year. From the beginning, Mayor Reed was fully committed to the department and its mission.

We also reopened all the recreation centers and formed public-private partnerships to invest $5 million in helping Atlanta’s youth realize their full potential. More than 3,500 young people annually receive leadership development training, participate in modern technology courses such as coding, and experience true mentorship in our Centers of Hope. While this investment may have not been a universally-popular choice, the truth is Centers of Hope work.

Eleven-year-old Meyonna, whose mother is still at work when she is dismissed from school, receives homework assistance, a hot meal for dinner and public speaking coaching. This coaching paid off when Meyonna delivered a speech to Mayor Reed, basketball legend and Atlanta Hawks vice chairman Grant Hill and the Kirkwood community at the Bessie Branham Center of Hope basketball court unveiling ceremony.

Another young lady named Mekayla was reading below grade level, but due to our reading development and comprehensive program at the Thomasville Center of Hope, she is now reading above grade level and excelling in her coursework.

Historic Fourth Ward Park

Historic Fourth Ward Park has become a gathering place for the community that’s growing along the Atlanta BeltLine near Ponce City Market. Credit: City of Atlanta

These are two success stories among dozens because of our investment in Atlanta’s young people. Nothing is more important than ensuring that our next generation has a fair chance at succeeding in life.

Since 2010, the City of Atlanta has grown its cash reserves steadily, reaching approximately $150 million in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which began July 1. Under Mayor Reed, the city has received eight credit rating increases, and has passed six consecutive balanced budgets. And because the city is now financially sound, Mayor Reed was able to invest an additional $3.5 million in the department this year.

Over the course of the last year, we have invested $1 million in newly-added or restored playgrounds, $2 million rebuilding the pool at Rev. James Orange Park, $1 million renovating Anthony Flanagan Memorial Recreation Center, and invested more than $225,000 to build a pedestrian bridge that connects the surrounding neighborhoods to the Rosel Fann Recreation Center. Many of these investments were made in the Southside and Westside neighborhoods of our city.

In addition, the City of Atlanta is supporting expansion of greenspace on our own properties. One example of this is the Bellwood Quarry, which the city purchased to convert for water storage. We will invest $250 million to develop the 300 acres surrounding the reservoir and transform it into the largest park in the city. The park will feature hiking and biking trails, baseball fields, open meadows and an amphitheater.

The City of Atlanta believes that every community deserves quality, safe and well-maintained parks, and my department works to ensure that this happens every day. We have acquired an additional 171 acres of land, including 15 new parks. As a result, 64 percent of Atlanta residents live within a half mile walk of a park – up from 50 percent four years ago – the largest greenspace accessibility percentage jump in more than 40 years.

Bellwood Quarry

An aerial view of Atlanta’s Bellwood Quarry, which is to be the next major park in Atlanta. File/Credit: City of Atlanta

We have accomplished a great deal, but we can do even more when we work together. We have a strong track record of partnering with non-profit organizations, civic groups, and conservancies; and we encourage other organizations to consider partnering with us to provide exceptional greenspaces for Atlanta residents and visitors.

The end of the year is the perfect time for reflection and the Department of Parks and Recreation will use this opportunity to revisit our existing citywide greenspace plan. We will implement new investment strategies, collaborative development planning and innovative management practices, which will allow our park amenities to receive needed capital. I’m confident that our future projects will result in Atlanta being a leading city for greenspace preservation.

8 replies
  1. urban gardener says:

    Oh this leaves me cold.
    Corporate apologist speak 101.
    I suspect my dream of rescuing the acreage alongside Piedmont Park and the Eastside Trail to become official parkland and not official concrete canyon land is officially dead.
    Why expand the most heavily used park in the metro and protect the most celebrated addition to Atlanta’s environment and quality of life…Report

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  2. Wormser Hats says:

    I’m all for adding acreage to the public’s investment in greenspace for both passive and active recreation, as well as watershed and habitat conservation.  However, lost in the modern mantra of “more” is the need, the will, and the growing actionable list of demands for asset management: quit buying more of what you already can’t afford (and egregiously neglect) to maintain. 
    Leverage whatever public/private and volunteer mechanisms are at the city’s disposal, but we’ve century-plus old parks with pedestrian infrastructure, lighting, access, forestry, and structural needs going largely ignored for the lack of an investment with available capital; fiscal, but especially in the personnel and equipment currently employed, but not deployed by the city. 
    Building a bigger house on a structurally-deficient foundation is never wise, nor is it a wise-use of limited resources.Report

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  3. SteveHagen says:

    I am totally impressed with parks in the City of Atlanta and surrounding cities and counties..
    Beware, I just moved here from  Miami, the bottom of the list of all US cities in terms of park acreage per resident.

    I am impressed that 65% or residents can walk to a park within a half mile.  Miami’s percentage is less than 20%. Evidently Atlanta has the land to make this possible.    If you lack development dollars you may look at park impact fees on new residential units and commercial units as workers need parks also.  .    Fess of just a thousand dollar per bedroom can speed up moving toward reaching the 100% goal.

    Steve Hagen   [email protected]Report

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  4. Martha Brooks says:

    Thank you Commissioner Phuong for your leadership and commitment to improving our City and especially the lives of our youth.  Partnerships between our city government and the many motivated non-profit and private sector partners are never easy, but they are the key to moving forward with speed and quality results.Report

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  5. Wondering says:

    The Reed Administration has a tradition of smoke and mirrors with respect to resourcing the park and recreation facility system adequately. The chest thumping over finally giving the Parks Department an additional $3.5 million must be taken within how many years of cuts of at least that magnitude in order to fund the supposed cash reserves. The Mayor salts away money while facilities crumble and parkland remains in rough condition. The figure of $250 million for a new park seems suspect ffrom people who can’t fund basic neighborhood park development – will anyone ever see it? How many neighborhoods have parkland acquired for them years ago thats still unimproved, with no help in sight? Finally it seems suspect that magically access to parkland increased by 14% in just four years when much parkland expansion was actually done under the Franklin administration.Report

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  6. Suzannah says:

    It’s great to be a party of a city that is putting such a heavy emphasis on growing and improving our parks system. Thank you, Commission Phuong, for all your efforts.  – Suzannah GillReport

    Reply

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