A Vision for Stronger, Greener Communities
By Teri Nye, Project Manager, Park Visioning Program at Park Pride
If you’ve ever watched a bunch of ants working out how to reach the sugar water dripping from a hummingbird feeder suspended high above their heads, you were probably amazed by their ingenuity and tireless pursuit of their goal. How will they ever attain something so far out of their individual reach? They do it (faster than you’d imagine) with a network of fellow ants—with their community.
There’s a similar energy of determination bubbling up in our local neighborhoods too. People are looking at their communities, identifying needs, and pulling together to address them.
What’s more, in response to the compounding challenges of urban life in 2022—such as climate change, rising costs of living, and ballooning population growth—these activated neighborhood groups are demanding that public spaces—like parks, libraries, and streets—play multiple roles in community enrichment. Streets are being modified to prioritize pedestrians and accommodate cyclists (and other users of active transportation); libraries have gone virtual, offering free access to learning platforms and information for all ages; and our expectations for parks are changing too. Parks are serving far more than just our recreational needs. They offer public health benefits, climate resilience, and cultural enrichment.
For our part, Park Pride is committed to helping communities co-create parks that meet their multiple and unique needs. Each year, communities from across Atlanta turn to our Park Visioning team of landscape architects (of which I’m honored to be a part!) with the goal of designing a park that prioritizes multiple community desires. While we conduct dozens of consultations annually focused on smaller specific issues, two parks in Atlanta (and two in DeKalb) are selected to receive comprehensive park visioning, a community-led approach to park planning that delivers an aspirational, achievable plan for the entire park. This year, the selection process in Atlanta was challenging as all the applicants showed a passionate commitment to positive change in their local parks.
Two parks, however, rose above and have been awarded Park Visioning. They stood out because each park has the potential to play a multifunctional role in the future of their neighborhood. Each is at the heart of a neighborhood demonstrating an innovative, self-initiated, and unified focus on community improvement. These parks are Four Corners Park in the Peoplestown neighborhood of Southeast Atlanta and Falling Water Park in the Southwest neighborhood of Atlanta.
An example of a park vision plan, co-created by Park Pride and the South River Gardens Community for a brand new park in the neighborhood.
Four Corners Park, due south of the State Capital and a stone’s throw from the Atlanta BeltLine, is situated in a Community Development Impact Area (CDIA), where at least 51% of the households earn less than 80% of the City’s median income. Residential development is exploding around it and the area is prone to the worst aspect of gentrification: displacement. The Friends of Four Corners Park, however, have envisioned a different outcome. The group is a blend of legacy and new residents who have all embraced a DIY-attitude of community improvement. Over many years, they’ve maintained a much-loved community garden and offered vital community programming at the modest but mighty Rick McDevitt Youth Center via Community Care, a non-profit organization. Also based at the park’s community center, a pair of young men run the self-funded youth program, Dream Builders of Atlanta, with a “leave the ladder down” philosophy. Area youth learn financial literacy, skilled trades such as welding and heavy equipment operation, as well as first aid and CPR. We were humbled and inspired by this community’s forward-thinking initiatives that encompass all generations. Despite many challenges, the Peoplestown community is looking toward a brighter (and greener!) future with a vision for a park that will reflect their spirit and serve as a foundation for future community advancement.
On the west side of town, just inside the lower curve of the perimeter, lies Falling Water Park, a 25-acre greenspace that has yet to be improved or officially opened (in fact, it’s been a “park-in-holding” since 2004). Despite the available land, there are no public parks within a 2-mile radius. For neighbors, that would be a 40-minute walk. Residential development is surging in the area, driving density and increasing the need for public greenspace. This need was recognized and, thanks to the leadership of The Trust for Public Land (with local partner support from Park Pride and the Urban Land Institute), the Atlanta Community Schoolyards pilot program was launched to make schoolyards available to the public after hours in areas that lack parks. But this only offers a sliver of space for a neighborhood that needs much more greenspace and different types of greenspaces for a range of users. The community around Falling Waters Park is done waiting. They’ve already rolled-up their sleeves for multiple clean-up initiatives and have more in the works. They are ready to enjoy the peaceful, natural beauty of this park, its abundant flora and fauna, and especially its relaxing fishing hole. The cooperation and collective determination they’ve shown is their own force of nature. We are honored to help turn this into a “real” park that will serve and sustain this community.
People across the Atlanta area and the world are already contending with economic challenges, more frequent and severe weather events, and unprecedented health crises. Quality of life in our future is dependent on highly multifunctional, community-serving public spaces. Like the ants reaching for the sugar water in the hummingbird feeder, we can achieve this goal that seems so far out of our individual reach—with community. And Park Pride’s Visioning Program, Community Building Program, and Grantmaking Program are here to help. If we can channel a neighborhood’s energy, determination, and spirit into parks that are ready to take on the future, we have achieved our goal.
Great article Teri! I cant wait to see what these communities come up with,Report