Mattie Freeland Park: Envisioned, Championed, and Built by Community
By Rachel Maher, Park Pride’s Director of Communications & Policy
There are few days more gratifying at Park Pride than when a neighborhood park, years in the making, is officially opened. And few ribbon-cutting celebrations have moved me as much as the one for Mattie Freeland Park in English Avenue that took place on October 27th. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, City Councilmember Byron Amos, the Parks and Recreation Commissioner Justin Cutler, and representatives from Park Pride, The Conservation Fund, the Friends of Mattie Freeland Park, and family and friends of the park’s namesake gathered to dedicate a new park to Ms. Mattie Freeland, beloved community matriarch who passed away in 2008.
The remarks given by Dr. Mironda Williams, Ms. Mattie Freeland’s granddaughter, during the program (which can be viewed in its entirety on Atlanta’s Channel 26 HERE) were especially moving and resonated deeply with me and with Park Pride’s mission to engage communities to activate the power of parks.
She said: “This is a community space: envisioned by community, championed by community, and then built by the community.” This simple yet powerful statement cuts to the heart of what makes Mattie Freeland Park so special and why Park Pride is committed to making great parks accessible to all.
Envisioned by Community
In 2015, a newly formed Friends of Mattie Freeland Park participated in Park Pride’s Park Visioning Program. Through an eight-month, community-directed process led by a steering committee of local neighbors and with input from hundreds of nearby residents, our team of professional landscape architects created a conceptual park plan that reflected the desires of neighbors for their future greenspace.
The park visioning process, however, accomplishes so much more than a park design alone. Park Pride spends months getting to know the community and community members, listening to stories, and learning about the history and the culture of the neighborhood. The park vision plan holds space for the past as it embodies dreams for the future.
What did English Avenue residents envision for Mattie Freeland Park? A place that is safe for kids to play. A place to come together as a community and share food, music, and memories. A place that honors their history and community heroes, as well as the natural and cultural experience of living in the English Avenue neighborhood. A place that bore Ms. Mattie’s name, that she would think was beautiful, and of which she’d have been proud.
(View the 2015 park vision plan HERE.)
Championed by Community
After a park vision plan is complete, a park doesn’t magically come to fruition. No, the park vision plan is just the beginning of an implementation process that often takes years of grassroots advocacy, organizing, fundraising, and collaboration, guided by the leadership of community champions.
The Friends of Mattie Freeland Park rose to the challenge. They rallied neighbors to prioritize their park goals as outlined in the vision and strategized how to bring the plan to life. They received two grants through Park Pride’s Grantmaking Program to implement aspects of the park design. They also worked with the Office of Council District 3 to secure funding to leverage the award dollars. Additionally, the Friends of Mattie Freeland Park were supported by Park Pride and The Conservation Fund on additional fundraising efforts to get across the finish line.
Without the dedication and commitment of the Friends of Mattie Freeland Park—Billie Walker, Stephen Causby, and Dr. Williams in particular—Mattie Freeland Park might never have come to be. These individuals are true community champions.
Built By Community
At Park Pride, we often say that a park isn’t a park without people. It’s the community that gives a park its meaning. Mattie Freeland Park exists on a foundation of community that was built by the community. And in that sense, it was a “park” long before its grand opening on October 27th. Way back in 2008, after Ms. Mattie passed and neighbors began to activate the space in her name, they were building the park. As they planted community garden beds, hosted cookouts, movie nights, and volunteer clean ups, they were building the park. As they began the park visioning process and sought to make sure that all voices were heard and included—including voices of the unhoused—they were building the park.
Mattie Freeland Park is special, and because of its strong foundation built by community, it will, in the words of Billie Walker (leader of the Friends group), be a space that will last generations to come.
When you drive by Mattie Freeland Park today,
you’ll see a new and charming neighborhood greenspace, complete with a beautiful playground, a grilling area with a pavilion and picnic tables, a rain garden, and artistic panels that celebrate local heroes. But I encourage you to pause and reflect on the meaning and values that underlay this park. The story of Mattie Freeland Park is one of hope and fulfillment of dreams through community greenspace. This story—and so many others like it playing out across Atlanta—is why Park Pride is committed to our vision of great, accessible parks for all.
We will continue to pursue this vision into 2023 and beyond, and we know that together—with the continued dedication of community champions and the support of those who believe in the power of parks—we can be successful.
Thank you to the partner organizations that played a role in bringing Mattie Freeland Park to fruition, including the Friends of Mattie Freeland Park, City of Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation, Park Pride, The Conservation Fund, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the English Avenue Neighborhood Association. Funders include The JPB Foundation, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Tull Charitable Foundation, Georgia-Pacific, U-Haul, the Brown Family Foundation, and Office of City Council District 3.