Don’t Tap the Breaks: A Call to Increase the Parks Budget
By Michael Halicki, Executive Director of Park Pride
It should be no surprise that I love parks. Parks are good for people and the communities of which they’re a part. They’re foundational for the health of local wildlife and habitats, and function as critical urban infrastructure by absorbing stormwater runoff, cooling ambient temperatures, providing the open space necessary for public health, and so on. Park Pride believes that parks have the potential to make cities great—but only if they receive the investment required to activate their multitude of benefits.
Which is why Park Pride and our greenspace partners don green shirts and show up in Atlanta Council Chambers during “budget season.” We’re there—year after year—to show our support for the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) and advocate for an increase in the annual budget for park maintenance and operations. Earlier this month, we did just that as DPR presented the proposed FY 2023 budget to Council (you can view the hearing its entirety here).
No Time to Tap the Breaks on Progress
Although Atlanta’s General Fund will increase by 3.4% in FY 2023, the proposed budget for parks and recreation reflects only a 1.6% (or $715,324) increase over last year, for a total of $44.5 million.
That increase is simply not enough to sustain the advancements we’ve seen in the park system in the last year alone. Consider the following:
- At the end of 2021, the City of Atlanta adopted its first comprehensive master plan for parks and recreation in over a decade. Activate ATL: Recreation and Parks for All is an ambitious 10-year plan for equitably improving, growing, and transforming our parks and rec system into that which Atlantans deserve.
- Atlanta just shot up in The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore Index—which ranks the US’s 100 largest cities on how their park system meets the community’s needs—from 49th to 27th. In response to this news, Mayor Andre Dickens stated: “While I’m proud of the work we’ve done to achieve this ranking, we’re not done yet… Make room for Atlanta at the top, where we belong.”
- Atlanta’s park system is growing! In 2021, Westside Park (Atlanta’s largest park at 280 acres), Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve (216 acres), and other smaller parks, including Cook Park (16-acres), opened to the public. In 2022, the City announced that the recently purchased Chattahoochee Brick site (75 acres) would become a public park. Others, including new parks in the South River Gardens neighborhood and in the Riverside neighborhood (both of which received conceptual design support through Park Pride’s Park Visioning Program) are on deck.
These recent and back-to-back wins for Atlanta’s parks system has built a forward momentum for progress that we’ve never seen before, and now is not the time to tap the breaks.
To catalyze the visionary transformation of Atlanta’s park system as outlined in Activate ATL, to continue the upward climb in the ParkScore Index, to maintain the amazing new parks that are opening and improve those currently existing, requires a meaningful and impactful increase in the budget for the Department of Parks & Recreation.
A Call to Increase the Parks Budget
I firmly agree with Mayor Dickens that there is “room at the top” for Atlanta’s park system. But to get there, we must be realistic, honest, and transparent about the budgetary needs for existing park maintenance and implementing Activate ATL. It’s Park Pride’s vision that every neighborhood in Atlanta has access to a great park.
As such, we encourage the City of Atlanta to adopt a meaningful increase in this year’s budget for parks and to chart a course for annual growth in DPR’s budget through the General Fund as we implement Activate ATL over the next 10 years.