Time to dream big for the future of Atlanta’s parks and green space

By Maria Saporta

Part 2: This is the second in a two-part series about Atlanta’s parks.

The next mayor of Atlanta – whoever he or she may be – should make parks and green space a priority as a way to counter-balance the anticipated increase in density as more people move into the city.

Atlanta’s environmental community has come together to make sure we preserve, protect, maintain and increase our city’s natural green assets.

trees

A cluster of trees in Piedmont Park (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The organizations – Park Pride, Trees Atlanta, the BeltLine Partnership, the Trust for Public Land, the Conservation Fund, the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Georgia Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy – are making sure the next mayor and the future Atlanta City Council are well aware of the challenges and opportunities facing the city.

“We believe we can all achieve more collectively than we can separately,” said Michael Halicki, executive director of Park Pride. “We have a common agenda that’s broader than just parks. The larger frame is the City’s Design process.”

Atlanta’s population is expected to increase dramatically over the next 30 years from its current base of about 465,000 residents to about 1.3 million by 2050.

The Atlanta City Design Project has made the preservation of green space as one of its top priorities. But it will take a strong commitment from City Hall for Atlanta to enjoy population growth without diminishing the city’s green amenities.

How can we develop our city without damaging our tree cover? How can we add to the amount of green space we have to better accommodate all the additional people who will be living in the city? And how can we best maintain our parks and green space to create a better quality of life for our residents?

These are all questions facing Atlanta’s future elected leaders.

As a way to answer these questions, environmental organizations are proposing that the next mayor and City Councilmembers form a Parks and Green Space Task Force – taking a page out of the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. The Task Force produced a report with a host of “Big Ideas.”

Those included:

  1. Create the Atlanta Park District;
  2. Double the number of park and green space acres by 2012;
  3. Increase the budget for Parks from $24.1 million to $35 million 2007;
  4. Raise $400 million over 10 years to support parks and green space acquisition;
  5. Partner with organizations to create a world-class park system;
  6. 6: Build a great park with an outdoor special events venue to relieve the burden on existing parks by 2007; and
  7. Make all parks safe by regularly enforcing current laws.

Obviously Atlanta was not able to implement all of those “Big Ideas,” but it did make progress in several areas.

park spendingIn 2002, the reported stated the City of Atlanta 3,122 acres of park space. By 2010, that had increased to 3,754 acres, and in 2017, Atlanta’s park acreage totals 4,805.

During the administration of Mayor Kasim Reed, the Department of Parks & Recreation acquiring 171 acres of land, which included 14 new parks.

Also, in 2006, the Atlanta City Council convened a Parks Technical Advisory Committee focused on achieving and maintaining a world-class park system for Atlanta.

But the budget for parks and recreation is a different story. For the city’s 2018 fiscal year, the budget for parks and recreation is $35.8 million. It has been increasing in recent years, but it is a significant decrease from what was being spent on parks in 1997.

That year, the parks budget was $37.6 million, but given inflation, in today’s dollars, that would translate into $54 million. So when adjusted for inflation, the actual annual in parks represents a 53 percent decrease, according to Halicki.Atlanta park acreage

The various green and environmental nonprofits also will be holding a major Mayoral Candidate Forum on Greenspace on the evening of July 13 at the Carter Presidential Library. The event is already sold out, even though there is a waiting list. (Full disclosure: I will be moderating that forum).

Halicki said it best. Speaking at a public meeting on the city’s budget for parks, Halicki summed it up this way:

“As we move forward towards the future and the next administration, I believe it is time for big thinking and big ideas for parks, greenspace and trails.”

Note to readers: The first column in this two-part series focused on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore for the City of Atlanta. 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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