Keeping score – how Atlanta can improve its quality of life

By Maria Saporta

When it comes to quality of life measures, Atlanta seems stuck in the middle.

The latest example was last week’s release of the annual ParkScore ranking by the Trust for Public Land.

The city of Atlanta showed incremental improvement – going from 43rd out of the nation’s 100 largest cities to 42nd.

Piedmont Park

People enjoying Piedmont Park (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The cities ranking the highest in park scores are Washington, D.C., which ranked first, followed by Saint Paul and Minneapolis – both sister cities in Minnesota.

Atlanta’s ParkScore is only one way to measure our quality of life in comparison to other communities.

The national real estate site – Walkscore.com – actually ranks cities and neighborhoods on how pedestrian-friendly they  are – serving as a guide for people looking to buy, rent or invest.

In that ranking, the city of Atlanta has a walk score of 49, a transit score of 47 and a bike score of 41.

By comparison, New York City has a walk score of 89, a transit score of 84 and a bike score of 68. San Francisco comes in second with a walk score of 86, a transit score of 80 and a bike score of 71. Boston also is highly ranked with a walk score of 81, a transit score of 72 and a bike score of 69.

The League of American Bicyclists ranks bicycle-friendly cities in categories of platinum, gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention.

Moon Ride ‘17 and ‘18 by Kelly Jordan

The city of Atlanta falls into the bronze category, as did 11 other Georgia cities – Alpharetta, Athens-Clarke County, Carrollton, Columbus, Decatur, Jekyll Island, Milledgeville, Peachtree City, Roswell, Savannah and Tybee Island. No Georgia city came in higher than bronze.

So why does it matter how we fare in these rankings?

When it comes to competing for talent and jobs of the future, these quality-of-life measures show how well we are positioned for the new economy.

From a competitive standpoint, we must also realize that other cities are looking to improve their scores and the quality of their communities.

Not only are these rankings interesting fodder, they also give us insights on how we can improve our city so it will become an even more livable and vibrant community.

Take Atlanta’s ParkScore for example.

A key part of that score is how many residents live within a 10-minute walk of a public park. The 2019 report showed that 71 percent of Atlantans live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

The report also has a detailed map showing Atlanta’s 415 parks and which areas that lack adequate green space. Only 6 percent of Atlanta’s acreage is used for parks and recreation.

TPL also looks at amenities, public funding and private support for parks when putting together its ranking. Atlanta fares well when it comes to the number of recreation and senior centers as well as splashpads. But it ranks really low in the number of public bathrooms in parks.

Midtown Atlanta Streets Alive

Cyclists, e-scooters and pedestrians take over Peachtree during Atlanta Streets Alive on April 8, 2019 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

 

Efforts are being made to improve Atlanta’s parks system. TPL and Park Pride are working on a pilot program of having joint-use agreements between the city and the Atlanta Board of Education so that our school yards are available to the general public and can be considered as park land.

George Dusenbury, the director of TPL’s Georgia office, said a key opportunity is for the city to clean up property it already owns.

“One barrier to Atlanta providing access to a quality park for all residents is the current wariness about brownfield sites,” Dusenbury said. “For example, the city-owned Gun Club Park has been closed for more than a decade because of concerns about lead in the soil. The Trust for Public Land and others are in preliminary conversations with the city on how to reopen Gun Club Park.”

The city’s fear over its brownfield liability stands in the way of the reopening of Gun Club Park. But Dusenbury said there’s a way to deal with that issue.

“The BeltLine, with support from the Trust for Public Land, showed a path forward of how to acquire and clean up contaminated land,” Dusenbury said. “The City had to address contaminated soil when we partnered to build Cook Park, and Park Pride cleaned up the soil to build Kathryn Johnston Park.”

Cook Park

A rendering of the Rodney Cook Jr. Park with a view of new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and part of downtown (Special: Trust for Public Land)

Cook Park , which should open within a year, also will have a number of amenities – all of which should have a positive impact on Atlanta’s ParkScore. But what’s most important is those improvements will translate into a higher quality of life for people living and working in the community.

And that’s the point. These various rankings and scorecards provide us a framework of how we can improve our city and our communities.

From a competitive standpoint, other cities also are looking to improve their scores and the quality of their communities.

In short, we can’t stand still. We must keep trying to make Atlanta a pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly city with inviting parks in walking distance for all.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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