Atlantans Are Speaking Up for Improved Park Maintenance
By Michael Halicki, Park Pride’s Executive Director, and Rachel Maher, Director of Communications & Policy
Parks are the heart of our communities. The physical and mental relief that parks provided through the pandemic was invaluable, and studies have shown that proximity to parks and greenspace promotes a healthy lifestyle that reduces stress and the risk of several health issues. They serve as social spaces where people gather, socialize, and build a sense of community. Parks are where urban nature is allowed to thrive, and where people can go to learn about and immerse themselves in the natural world. They also help to protect against the growing impacts of climate change—they help lower ambient temperatures, they absorb stormwater that floods neighborhoods, and the trees and flora found there help to clean our air.
Park advocates at the February 28 CDHS committee meeting.
The benefits of a great park system are what has motivated Atlantans from across the city to join Park Pride in demanding an increase in the FY2024 budget to maintain these amenities which have been undervalued for far too long. Throughout February, we’ve attended Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Services (CDHS) committee meetings to advocate for a larger budget for park maintenance within the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR). Community members have shared their personal experiences and stories of how the underfunding of parks has negatively impacted their quality of life. Below, we share their perspectives.
What the Community is Saying
Atlantans love our parks, and that leads to our parks needing a bit more love themselves.
Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, park attendance has skyrocketed. People discovered a new appreciation for parks and are visiting more frequently to meet with friends and family, and enjoy meals in the pavilions, pick-up games, and exercise. Inevitably, more people in parks leads to more wear and tear on our greenspaces and more trash.
Several community members who’ve spoken at CDHS meetings specifically mentioned trash and litter being a big problem in their parks, emphasizing the need for more regular maintenance visits from park crews. Carrie Salvary with the Alliance for the Activation of Cook Park described how overflowing trash in her park is a consistent issue. Winfrey Young, head of the Friends of Pittman Park and Vice President of the Pittsburg Neighborhood Association, shared that just to get into Pittman Park, visitors need to walk over trash. Lewis Woodson with NPU-P parks shared that volunteers recently pulled 50 tires out of Melvin Drive Park that had been dumped years ago; his story suggests that poorly maintained parks become dumping grounds, a truth that is exacerbated by inadequate funding for park maintenance.
Invasive plant species make parks inaccessible.
Atlanta’s parks have an invasive plant problem that requires maintenance dollars to bring under control. Kudzu, privet, English ivy, and many other species have taken over large sections of forested park space, making these spaces inaccessible for passive recreation, and in some cases, even preventing entry into the park. Such is the case at Chosewood Park, where Friends of the Park leader, Taryn Arbeiter, described how an entire side of the neighborhood is cut off from accessing the park because the forested area is so densely overgrown with invasive species. Neighbors must walk a considerable distance to enter the park from the other side of the neighborhood.
Chosewood Park is not, by any means, the only park in Atlanta dealing with this issue, and this problem is only growing over time. DPR needs an invasive species management plan, and it needs the people power trained in invasive species identification and removal to execute the plan. Both of which require increased funding and resources to accomplish.
Residents feel neglected when their public spaces are neglected.
During her remarks, Sandra Kruger of the Olmsted Linear Parks Alliance reflected on the message that people receive when their neighborhood public spaces do not receive regular stewardship: the message is that no one cares. And though, she stressed, we know that’s not the case, Atlanta needs increased funding and staffing to maintain all greenspaces to a higher standard and show Atlantans in every neighborhood that they are valued members of the place they call home.
Park workers deserve living wages and promising career paths.
It’s not just the quality of life of those who use and enjoy parks that is negatively impacted by lack of investment in park maintenance; it’s the quality of life of Atlanta’s park workers. Currently, the wages offered to park workers is too low. They are not competitive with private landscape companies, nor with other departments within the City, or other public entities who often hire workers away; this is part of the reason behind the 26% staffing shortage within DPR. And when park crews are short staffed, everyone is stretched thin and unable to adhere to a high standard of park stewardship.
Within Activate ATL, DPR’s 10-year comprehensive master plan, tasks are identified to ensure existing positions are compensated comparable to other municipal and private agencies and to invest in training opportunities for staff. We hope to see an increase in the parks budget to advance on both fronts.
Investing in park maintenance provides an opportunity for youth employment and job training for life-long careers.
Increasing the DPR budget for maintenance also presents an opportunity for Atlanta’s youth to find green jobs with the possibility of growth and advancement for life-long careers. Les Duncan, CEO of the Greening Youth Foundation, explained at the CDHS meeting that this is especially true for youth of color who face high unemployment. Duncan sees an opportunity for a win-win-win within the current state of the park system and DPR‘s staffing shortages: the opportunity to connect youth to good jobs, while filling the staffing shortage within DPR, having an outcome of better maintained parks. Should there be a greater investment in the budget for DPR, the benefits would ripple outwards into aspects of the community that reach well-beyond park boundaries.
Lack of maintenance of public parks is a wasteful use of tax-payer dollars.
The underinvestment in park maintenance today will cost much more in the long run to repair the damage after years of deterioration. In another example from Chosewood Park highlighted at the CDHS meeting, a storm drain clogged by years of debris resulted in the flooding of the park’s tennis courts, which were subsequently damaged overtime and required resurfacing—a much more expensive outcome than it would have been to properly maintain the storm drain to start. Failing to invest in the maintenance of existing infrastructure will cost taxpayers more overtime, a poor use of public dollars that could otherwise be used in countless other ways for the benefit of all.
Lack of investment in green infrastructure maintenance in parks could lead to flooding.
Consider the sponge-like role parks play in absorbing stormwater, either through engineered solutions like Historic Fourth Ward Park and Cook Park, but also through natural green infrastructure, like our forested parks and nature preserves. Inadequate maintenance of both types of assets diminish their overall performance, which can result in flooding in surrounding neighborhoods and communities. Many other cities have specialized green infrastructure maintenance crews that support optimal performance of green infrastructure. Such a crew in Atlanta—a national leader in green infrastructure—is long overdue.
Share Your Story
Greater investment in Atlanta’s park system for maintenance will not only result in better parks for residents to enjoy now but will preserve our wonderful greenspace amenities for future generations. This is the legacy we owe to the next generation, and, speaking frankly, this is not a legacy that we are living up to. We can do better. The first step in that journey begins with the next budget cycle and with each of you.
If you want to add your voice to those of park advocates speaking up at CDHS committee meetings and demanding an increase to the parks budget for maintenance, wear a green shirt and join us at Atlanta City Hall to share your story:
- Tuesday, March 14 at 1:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, March 28 at 1:30 p.m.
Community members who arrive early and sign up for public comment will have three minutes to address the committee and share photos of park maintenance issues. Help us bring attention to the chronic issue of park maintenance and influence a bigger budget and greener future!
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