Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announces "Green Cabinet" to advise him and the city on parks and greenspace. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

Maria Saporta

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced Wednesday that he will have a Greenspace Advisory Council to help guide city policy when it comes to its parks and natural areas.

The Council, which Dickens referred to as his “green cabinet,” includes 13 environmentally-focused nonprofits that serve the city and the Atlanta region.

“Our intention is to use them as a resource for the city,” said Dickens, who added that he “expects the members of this council to help us stay on track and help us to remain accountable” in implementing the city’s five-year strategic plan for parks, green space and recreation.

The 13 organizations that have been advocating for the City of Atlanta to have a “Green Cabinet.”
The 13 organizations that have been advocating for the City of Atlanta to have a “Green Cabinet.”

Dickens also announced that one of the members — Park Pride — is making grants to 24 communities across the City of Atlanta and unincorporated DeKalb County totaling $2.3 million, the largest grant cycle in its history and exceeding last year’s grants by nearly $1 million.

The announcement of the mayor’s “Green Cabinet” culminates years of work by local environmental groups, which have collaborated on mayoral forums and joint meetings to ensure parks and greenspace are an important priority for the City of Atlanta.

During the summer, the 13 nonprofit organizations met with the leading mayoral candidates to hear about their commitment to parks and to present the group’s thoughts and recommendations. With Wednesday’s announcement, Dickens obviously had embraced the idea of a green cabinet.

The Council is expected to meet on a quarterly basis, which is similar to the meeting schedule of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a high-powered group of business, academic and civic leaders.

Asked whether the Council would be the green version of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, Dickens laughed, saying: “Yeah, something like that.”

Then-candidate Andre Dickens meets with the 13 nonprofit groups at Piedmont Park in July 2021. (Special: Park Pride.)

One of the Greenspace Advisory Council’s major responsibilities will be in helping the city implement its strategic plan for parks.

“This strategic plan lays out the framework to investing and connecting and growing the city’s parks and recreation system,” Dickens said. “It outlines actions that will be taken over the next five years. And these actions tie back to ambitious and measurable goals that ensure accountability, equity and progress.”

Dickens also mentioned that the strategic plan will require support from the Atlanta City Council, and it will be instrumental as the city seeks voter approval on an infrastructure bond referendum in May, which could result in “Atlanta’s largest investment ever in our parks and recreation system.”

Asked whether the investment would be in expanding parks or maintaining Atlanta’s existing parks Dickens said it was “not an either-or, but a both-and” approach.

“We need to increase the amount of green space, increase the amount of parks. But we do have to make sure we invest in park maintenance and park equipment maintenance,” Dickens said. “So, we want to make sure that as we look to expand our green space, that we also take care of what we already have.”

Dickens also said the Council, which met with the mayor for the first time before the City Hall press conference, talked about the need for having a collective impact – connecting parks with affordable housing, public safety, youth engagement and climate change. The Council also would advise the city on green jobs and developing a green economy in Atlanta.

“There’s so much more that this team of folks has done and things that they’ve already said that they want to see us do together with this administration,” Dickens said. “So, I’m excited about this green cabinet.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announces “Green Cabinet” to advise him and the city on parks and greenspace. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announces “Green Cabinet” to advise him and the city on parks and greenspace. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

The mayor did highlight Park Pride and its latest round of grants totaling $2.3 million.

“This is the largest grant cycle in Park Pride’s history, and 60 percent of the grants will benefit low-income neighborhoods,” Dickens said. “The parks in those neighborhoods are vital, and so 60 percent of these funds will go to those communities.”

Park Pride’s Grantmaking Program was established in 2004 to award funds to community groups seeking to revitalize their neighborhood greenspaces. It has been designed to support Friends of the Park groups and help them take on larger projects as they grow and develop capacity. Grants have ranged from $250 to $100,000 or more.

The program is supported by the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Home Depot Foundation, the City of Atlanta, and others. To date, Park Pride has awarded more than $12.7 million to park projects, including new playgrounds, bridges and piers, ADA-accessibility upgrades, kiosks and signage, trails, exercise equipment, community gardens, green infrastructure like rain gardens and bioswales and art installations.

The City of Atlanta is the program’s most recent funder. In 2021, public funding was allocated to Park Pride through legislation from Atlanta City Council, designated for park improvement projects in low-income communities.

“Due to increased support from our philanthropic and public partners, Park Pride’s citywide impact is larger than what’s ever been possible,” said Michael Halicki, Park Pride’s executive director. “With 60 percent of our total grant awards directed to low-income community parks, we’re reaching those who have the greatest need for the benefits that parks provide: safe places to play, improved mental and physical health, cleaner air and water. I couldn’t be prouder of the work we’re doing together.”

Here is a list of Park Pride’s 2022 grant awards:

  • The Friends of Adair Park will replace aging and broken playground equipment with a new central play structure chosen by the community.
  • The Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy will create a series of nature-based education sites along the park’s streambank.
  • The Friends of Beaverbrook Park are looking forward to new signage and various trail improvements, including a bridge that will provide an important connection through the park.
  • The Candler Park Conservancy will install an expansive new playground that will become the centerpiece of the neighborhood.
  • The Friends of Center Hill Park look forward to new walking trails and a pedestrian bridge over a creek that will provide connection throughout the park.
  • The Friends of Central Park hope to prevent unsightly and damaging erosion at the well-used fitness area by adding a rubberized surface.
  • The Chastain Memorial Park Conservancy and all park visitors will benefit from trail improvements in the North Woods section of the park that will enhance passive recreation opportunities, including interpretive signs, native plantings, and a new pavilion.
  • The Friends of Cleopas Johnson Park will upgrade park amenities, improving park access and safety.
  • The Friends of DeKalb Memorial Park will replace their playground with new equipment for multiple age groups and create a safer experience including rubber surfacing.
  • Grant Park Conservancy will beautify the area around the Erskine Fountain with a cobblestone plaza and native plantings including daffodils to honor children lost in the Holocaust.
  • The Friends of Herbert Taylor and Daniel Johnson Parks will create better access to the trails off Beech Valley Road by stabilizing the stream crossing using boulders
  • The Historic Fourth Ward Park Conservancy will install more sustainable landscaping in the open lawn area near North Avenue by removing invasive plants and adding native species.
  • The Historic Oakland Foundation will add benches, bike racks, and directional signage to Oakland Cemetery to help visitors navigate through the park and enhance the visitor experience.
  • The Friends of Lang-Carson Park will create a more intentional flow through the park with accessible pathways and improvements to the park entrance.
  • The Friends of Lenox-Wildwood Park look forward to enjoying a more accessible greenspace, connected via a new natural pathway and bridge that crosses a creek.
  • The Friends of Lindsay Street Park will gain access to passive recreation space with the addition of a new bridge that connects the two sections of the park.
  • The Friends of Lilian Cooper Shepherd Park look forward to enjoying the shade provided by a new cover over the basketball court, which will create a great space just not for games, but for community gatherings as well.
  • The Friends of Melvin Drive Park will enjoy a new playground with play structures for both toddlers and older children to enjoy.
  • The Friends of Peace Park will revitalize the playground with a climbing structure and new swings to benefit children in after-school programs near the park.
  • The Friends of Sara J. Gonzalez Park will increase the usability of their soccer pitch with the installation of an AstroTurf field.
  • The Friends of South Atlanta Parks will continue to improve the walking paths through Lucius D. Simon Memorial Park to create safe routes for school children and add a more welcoming entrance at Bisbee Street with seating and pathways.
  • Olmsted Linear Park Alliance will replace playground equipment at Springdale Park with those designed for kids of all abilities and improve drainage around the playground area.
  • The Friends of West End Park will build a hillside amphitheater, creating a community gathering space and seating area near the playground and basketball court.
  • The Friends of Zonolite Park will upgrade the trail through the wooded area of the park to a raised slate chip path that is more accessible for people of all ages and mobilities. They are also installing native trees and shrubs while removing invasive species.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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1 Comment

  1. What are Dickens and this cabinet doing in relation to ill-planned APD training facility in the South River Forest at the former Atlanta Prison Farm site? This is such a critical piece of land that should be saved for greenspace due to it’s unique place within the vision of the SRF and the Atlanta City Design. NOW is the time to push for a re-think with public engagement on this ongoing development that was intentionally hidden from the public for so long.

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