Getting Atlanta’s Park System to the Top – Where We Belong
By Rob Brawner, Executive Director of Atlanta BeltLine Partnership
Atlanta’s park system is on the rise. This month marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of the first phase of Westside Park, which was made possible by a leadership gift from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and significant City of Atlanta investments to become the largest jewel on the Atlanta BeltLine Emerald Necklace.
In the past year, historic contributions from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and the James M. Cox Foundation to the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership have provided more than $100 million to work alongside investments from the Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District, commercial and apartment property owners, and the federal government to ensure the full 22-mile mainline BeltLine trail corridor is completed by 2030.
It’s not limited to the BeltLine. Transformative projects like Rodney Cook Sr. Park, Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve, and the Chattahoochee Brick Company site are increasing Atlanta’s green assets. City of Atlanta voters further demonstrated their commitment to parks, trails, transportation, public safety, and more by approving the Moving Atlanta Forward infrastructure package in May.
These investments are yielding results. Atlanta moved up 22 places to no. 27 in the 2022 Trust for Public Land ParkScore® rankings, led by a perfect 100 out of 100 in park spending per resident. We should feel good about our progress.
But this is just a start. It will take sustained investment over many years to become one of the top park cities in the country. We must build the capacity to maintain what we have. We need to continue adding to our acreage (Atlanta scored only 25 out of 100 in the ParkScore’s measure for acreage). And we need to make parks more accessible to residents of all races and income levels (Atlanta scored only 48 out of 100 in the equitable distribution of parks).
Succeeding in making Atlanta a top-tier park system will require a coalition of public, private, non-profit, philanthropic, and community partners working together toward these goals.
The pieces are coming together. Atlanta has a plan to continue our progress through Activate ATL and an accompanying set of specific action items for 2022-2026. Atlanta’s new parks commissioner, Justin Cutler, hails from Seattle, Wash., which ranks in the top 10 of the ParkScore rankings. Atlanta’s philanthropic community invests generously in our parks and trails, and our residents and corporations invest tens of thousands of volunteer hours each year through local non-profits to care for parks and plant trees.
As part of his commitment “to making sure that every resident has access to our beautiful greenspaces—regardless of zip code,” Mayor Dickens created the Greenspace Advisory Council earlier this year to support his administration in delivering a best-in-class park system. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership is honored to serve with other committed partners, and we appreciate Park Pride’s organization of this group and our engagement with the Dickens administration. At a high level, the group has articulated its desire to serve as a trusted advisor to review plans and priorities, advocate for necessary resources, and partner to engage people and organizations to be part of Atlanta’s park progress.
The benefits of investing in parks are well-documented. They catalyze economic development, mitigate climate change, and create workforce development opportunities. We are on the cusp of something special in Atlanta’s park history, but it will take a sustained effort from multiple stakeholders to be successful. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership is excited to contribute to the work ahead so we can all move forward together.