Lessons from a Grant Cycle
By Michael Halicki, Park Pride’s Executive Director
A few weeks ago, Park Pride announced its slate of grant awards for capital park improvements, championed by community advocates. This is an annual occurrence. However, this year was different.
The most apparent difference was the size of the total award made: $2.3 million! This grant cycle is the largest in Park Pride’s history, approximately $1 million over last year. You can read more about the specific awards made and the improvements they’ll fund here.
The second obvious difference is that it more clearly illustrates Park Pride’s commitment to park equity than ever before. In 2020, Park Pride—with the support of our funders—changed the structure of our Grantmaking Program to make it more accessible to all the communities we serve. Most notably, the requirement that grant recipients raise funds to serve as a match to our grant award was removed for applicants in low-income neighborhoods. Then in 2021, the City of Atlanta jumped at the opportunity to support these same applicants through Park Pride’s Grantmaking Program. We appealed to two longtime funders to increase their support for the program as well, and as a result, 60% of the funding in this year’s grant cycle went to low-income neighborhoods.
The other difference between this year’s grant cycle and those previous is the lessons learned. We gained important knowledge about the communities we serve, the changing landscape of Atlanta, and the future of Park Pride.
- There is more demand for community-led park improvements than we knew. Following the changes Park Pride made to our Grantmaking Program to increase access to quality parks, 10 new Friends of the Park groups formed in low-income neighborhoods in a relatively short period of time. To me, this suggests that the demand increases as access increases. People are hungry for change and willing to do the work. Moving forward, Park Pride will continue to focus on increasing the accessibility of our programs—our Grantmaking Program in particular—with additional outreach, coaching, and skills training.
- However, being aware of the demand does little to increase our capacity to address it. And quite simply, the demand for community-led park improvements far exceeds Park Pride’s capacity to provide it on our own. I was aware of this truth before, but as the changes to our Grantmaking Program opened a door for more people to engage with our services, I was not anticipating the flood. The pandemic, too, has changed the park landscape and people’s perceptions of parks. There is a greater sense that we need to fix what is broken, invest in what we have, and expand greenspace to those who don’t have it. The lack of funding for local parks is pervasive and system wide. It is also most pronounced in low-income neighborhoods. Park Pride’s Grantmaking Program will continue to grow, but it is not enough. We need a city-wide effort—supported by government, philanthropy, partner nonprofits, communities, volunteers, and individual donors—to make great parks a reality in every neighborhood.
- And it is happening. I can see that we are in the midst of a sea change in the city-wide greenspace movement; support is growing on all sides. The evidence for this claim? Supply of public funding for local neighborhood parks is on the rise: in addition to the support provided by the City of Atlanta for Park Pride’s Grantmaking Program, the May 2022 Bond Referendum is an upcoming opportunity for public investment in parks and recreation. What’s more, it reflects a shift with more funding going towards local park and recreation projects and less going towards large new amenities. Check out the project list here. Additionally, Mayor Dickens announced the formation of the Greenspace Advisory Council, of which I’m proud to say that Park Pride is a part. This Council will help guide city policy when it comes to its parks and natural areas. Its formation alone represents a new level of engagement from Atlanta’s Executive Branch and signals a willingness on behalf of Mayor Dickens to leverage all the resources and expertise at his disposal to move the needle on the state of urban parks, trees, trails, and watersheds. The Greenspace Advisory Council also represents a collaboration of Atlanta’s environmental nonprofits that the city has never seen—working together, we’ll be able to achieve more than what’s ever been possible.
In the past, Park Pride’s grant announcement used to simply stoke excitement for the improvements and new amenities destined for parks. But this year, it is so much more. This is just the beginning of what is to come. Local parks are on the rise. And so is Park Pride.
PS – If you’re a community member interested in making improvements to your neighborhood park, preparations for Park Pride’s next grant cycle begin in June, 2022. Keep an eye on our website for future announcements! https://parkpride.org/