By Maria Saporta
City elections will be held Nov. 5 — and there is one issue where virtually all the candidates — incumbents and challengers alike — agree.
Atlanta needs more parks and green space, and Atlanta needs to maintain the parks and green space it already has.
And just to make sure that political leaders will be held accountable when they’re in office, they are asked to sign the PARC Pledge when they are running for office.
“We have received signed endorsements from every member of City Council as well as (contenders) Andrew Dickens and Mary Norwood,” said Michael Halicki, executive director of Park Pride, which is championing the PARC Pledge initiative along with dozens of other local organizations and park advocates. “And we are not done. We are going to continue to push on that to get more pledges.”
On Friday afternoon. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also made it clear he was on board.
“My administration’s commitment to Atlanta’s parks is unwavering, and we commend the leadership of Park Pride for the establishment of its PARC Pledge,” Reed said through a spokesman. “Under my administration, we have made vast improvements to our park system, but there is certainly more work to be done. Through collaboration with Park Pride, our Department of Parks and Recreation and other key stakeholders, we will continue to provide our residents with award-winning parks and green space to enjoy now and for generations to come.”
The Park Atlanta Rescue Coalition (PARC) Pledge asks people to agree to four main points. The pledge reads:
I, as an advocate for parks and green space in Atlanta, promise to support:
- The funding of operations and maintenance of Atlanta’s parks to meet a higher standard of excellence
- The acquisition and development of additional land for parks and green space to ensure all Atlantans live within a 10 minute walk of a park
- Programs at parks that encourage healthy, active kinds and engaged communities
- Opportunities to make all parks safe, crime-free areas
According to Park Pride, Atlanta has room for improvement when it comes to its parks and green space. Among its 50 peer cities, Atlanta ranks 31st for its parks and green space. More than a third of Atlantans do not live within a 10-minute walk of a public park.
Atlanta currently has 354 parks — 11 of them are citywide parks (Piedmont Park, Chastain Park, Grant Park); 34 are community parks; 68 are neighborhood parks; and the remaining ones are “small preserves, block parks, circles, triangles and beauty spots,” according to the city’s description.
The City of Atlanta also has 52 different groups that are friends of parks; and there also are 35 groups that are friends of parks in DeKalb County. All in all, it is estimated that about 5 percent of the city’s land mass is devoted to parks and green space, which continues to place Atlanta lower than its peer cities on a per-capita basis.
For more than a decade, the City of Atlanta has had a goal of adding more parks and green space as a way of increasing its amenities.
And the city has been having some measurable success during both the administrations of Mayor Shirley Franklin and Mayor Reed.
George Dusenbury, commissioner of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation (who incidentally was executive director of Park Pride before joining the Reed administration), outlined how much park land and green space the city has acquired during the past four years.
In 2013, Dusenbury said the city made 11 acquisitions for new parks totaling about 38 acres.
The parks department also assumed maintenance for five Atlanta BeltLine Parks — Historic Fourth Ward Park (16 acres); D.H. Stanton Park (7.9 acres); Boulevard Crossing Park (5 acres); BeltLine Northeast Trail (2.4 miles); Piedmont Park North Woods expansion (50 acres with Piedmont Park Conservancy).
In 2012, the parks department acquired 51 acres from six transactions — resulting in two new parks; and from 2010-2011, the city acquired 49 acres from 23 transactions resulting in three new parks.
“Those numbers actually do not include more than 400 acres that the Department of Watershed Management has made available to the public at co-located sites like Blue Heron Nature Preserve, Herbert Greene Nature Preserve and the nearly 200-acre Lionel Hampton Preserve-Beecher Hills Park site,” Dusenbury said.
But all these acquisitions come at a cost. It is wonderful that the city is adding to its green space inventory, but parks and green space need to be maintained.
The current $12 million annual parks department budget — which has been stretched to the max to cover the maintenance and operations of existing parks — is not adequate to handle all the additional parkland.
Halicki said Park Pride is asking for the city to increase the parks department budget by 10 percent, or $1.2 million, in order to cover the increased maintenance costs.
Dusenbury said that the parks budget has fared better than most departments during the past four years because it remained stable while other budgets were cut. And during those years, the department has done its best to make repairs — such as fixing fountains, restrooms and lights — in the parks and improve maintenance as best it could within its budget.
“We do feel we have the support of the City Council and the mayor,” Dusenbury said, adding that the PARC Pledge campaign does act as a reminder of how important parks are to a community. “It certainly doesn’t hurt to have people express support for the work that we do. We are grateful for that support.”
Here are the people and organizations that have signed the PARC Pledge:
City Council Members
Michael Julian Bond
Ivory Lee Young
Candidates for Office
Atlanta BeltLine Partnership
Atlanta Downtown Improvement District
Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID)
Chastain Park Conservancy
The Conservation Fund
Friends of Little Nancy Creek
Friends of Ira B. Melton
Friends of Peachtree Hills
Friends of Walker Park
Grant Park Conservancy
Historic Fourth Ward Park Conservancy
Metropolitan Atlanta Urban Watershed Institute
Olmstead Linear Park Conservancy
Piedmont Park Conservancy
Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land
South Fork Conservancy
Trust for Public Land
West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA)