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People, Places & Parks Thought Leadership

How to Continue Delivering Great Parks

As the largest greenspace along the BeltLine, Westside Park is a critical component of the larger BeltLine vision.

By Rob Brawner, Executive Director of Atlanta BeltLine Partnership

The opening of Westside Park – the largest jewel on the BeltLine Emerald Necklace – has generated much excitement and is the result of years of hard work by many people and organizations. It reinforces that great places don’t occur by chance but result from dedicated collaboration between city government, philanthropy, non-profits, and residents. Key takeaways from Westside Park provide a roadmap for Atlanta to succeed in delivering the parks envisioned around the BeltLine and throughout the city as proposed in the ActivateATL master plan.

Financial commitment from the public sector is a critical catalyst to create new parks. The City of Atlanta invested more than $450 million across three mayoral administrations to purchase land for Westside Park, create the stunning 2.4-billion-gallon reservoir at its center, and fund initial park design and development. This resulted from extensive collaboration between the Department of Watershed Management and the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to meet both greenspace and water management goals – an approach also used successfully at Historic Fourth Ward Park and Rodney Cook Sr. Park. We must continue to find innovative ways to maximize public funding for our parks, which will inspire philanthropic investment.

Philanthropic partners are essential to deliver high quality parks for people. At Westside Park, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation investment enabled full development of the upper level, enhanced drainage so the fields can withstand heavy use, and provided much needed pavilions, restrooms, and trail connectivity. With the first phase of the park open, The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership continues to raise funds to expand and enhance Westside Park, including The Coca-Cola Foundation’s gift earlier this year. Additional BeltLine greenspaces will be delivered in a similar fashion.

Our parks must reflect input from robust community engagement to ensure they meet residents’ needs. Westside Park benefitted from extensive community input during Atlanta BeltLine Inc.’s development of the first comprehensive master plan for Westside Park in 2009. Once funding was secured for Westside Park, DPR formed a community advisory committee and hosted multiple public meetings to update the master plan, resulting in many of the features desired by the community. We can improve outcomes for nearby residents by continuing to seek their input on the economic, housing, and transportation impacts of new parks like Westside Park and then working collectively to address those impacts.

Finally, we need more dedicated resources to maintain our parks. In conjunction with the development of Westside Park, The Arthur M. Blank Foundation commissioned a study to benchmark Atlanta’s park system against peer cities and recommend ways to grow public funding and collaboration. This is critically important, as 24% of City of Atlanta residents report that park facilities are not well maintained (double the national average), Atlanta’s ParkScore ranking recently slipped from 40th to 49th, and philanthropic partners and taxpayers will invest more in parks if the city can maintain them. The Atlanta BeltLine Partnership is part of the “Green Cabinet” that is prepared to work with the next mayor on solutions to our maintenance challenges.

Atlanta will succeed in establishing world class greenspaces like Westside Park along the Atlanta BeltLine and throughout the city if we can continue to work together to combine public and private investment, community engagement, and a commitment to maintenance.

We encourage you to listen to the plans mayoral candidates shared for improving parks at the Mayoral Forum on Greenspace.

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Scott E Stephens October 12, 2021 11:27 am

    The new Westside Park is a great addition to Atlanta’s park space, except for one huge mistake. The centerpiece of the park, the reservoir formed by the old quarry, is off-limits to the public. This should be a public space for swimming, fishing and non-motorized boating. Instead, we are confronted with a beautiful water feature emclosed by an ugly fence. The argument that this is off-limits because it is an emergency water source for the city of Atlanta doesn’t hold water. The huge amount of water in the reservoir certainly mitigates any harm from boating or swimming. Following their logic, Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River should also be fenced. Without access to the water, the Westside Park offers little more than a playground and a picnic area.Report

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