Mayor Reed’s administration responds to Maria Saporta’s column to dream big on parks

Note to readers: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and his administration Friday morning released a response to Maria Saporta’s Metro column that posted earlier this week. We at SaportaReport welcome the conversation about parks and green space. The column was intended as a challenge for Atlanta’s next mayor to dream big. It was not intended to be a critique of the Reed administration and the significant  progress that has occurred in the past seven years – as the Mayor’s administration  outlines in its release below.

News Release

Reed Administration Response to Maria Saporta’s July 3 Saporta Report Column

Statement from Press Secretary Jenna Garland

ATLANTA – In her latest column for the Saporta Report, “Time to dream big for the future of Atlanta’s parks and green space,” Maria Saporta demonstrates a remarkably limited perspective on one of the City’s most important assets – our parks and recreation facilities.

The world’s best parks are great because they have first-class, accessible programming. With the global conversation around equity and opportunity front and center in our city, dividing parks from recreation reflects a lack of consideration for these issues – and a failure to grasp the larger context.

Westside Trail

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed speaks at Westside Trail ground-breaking in November 2014 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Mayor Reed is extremely proud of the work he has done to re-open all the City’s recreation centers, and to establish and expand the Centers of Hope, because of the essential role these facilities play in supporting kids and working families citywide.

But reading the comments from Saporta and Park Pride Executive Director Michael Halicki, it’s clear that they champion greenspace above all else – including the needs of our city’s young people.

The column fails to appropriately acknowledge the gains made under the Reed Administration. From the beginning, Mayor Reed has been fully committed to Atlanta parks and greenspace. When he took office in 2010, the City of Atlanta was experiencing its worst financial crisis in more than 80 years. Yet, the City of Atlanta still found resources that year for the Department of Parks and Recreation to invest an additional $1 million in parks.

Since then, the City of Atlanta has acquired an additional 171 acres of land, including 15 new parks. As a result, 64 percent of Atlanta residents live within a half mile walk of a park – up from 50 percent four years ago – the largest greenspace accessibility percentage jump in more than 40 years. These achievements are paired with the Mayor’s success in re-opening all 33 recreation centers and establishing 22 Centers of Hope across the city.

These figures do not include approximately 280 acres that will be devoted to Westside Reservoir Park. When it’s complete, this new park will be larger than Piedmont Park, which has 185 acres; will connect to the Atlanta BeltLine and will offer new opportunities for public performances and festivals – all goals for a “Great Park” established by the previous Administration. Saporta references this and other loose goals set back in 2006, but then fails to acknowledge that the Reed Administration has either met these goals or laid the groundwork to do so. Nor does she devote any time to exploring whether these goals are still relevant or necessary for Atlanta in 2017 or the city we hope to be in the next decade.

Likewise, Saporta fails to acknowledge the greenspace wins made possible by the TSPLOST on last November’s ballot. The TSPLOST will fund new greenways and trails, and most importantly, will fund the acquisition of the remaining right of way for the Atlanta BeltLine – initiatives made possible through Mayor Reed’s leadership.

Lindsay Street Park

People listen to Mayor Kasim Reed as he talks about collaboration over conflict at the opening of Lindsay Street Park on the Westside (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But Saporta instead seems completely focused not only on ignoring these wins, but inventing new ways to downplay the progress made by the Reed Administration. Saporta acknowledges the increase in the City of Atlanta’s parks spending in the first installment of this two-part column, but in the second post, she flip-flops. She cites a statistic from Halicki’s presentation which, out of context, suggests a 20-year decline in parks funding. In reality, Mayor Reed has increased the budget of the Department of Parks and Recreation from $28.7 million in FY 2011 to $36.04 million in the recently passed FY 2018 budget. He has increased the Department’s budget while recovering from the Great Recession and without once raising property taxes. This should be a point of pride for our city.

For another example of how Saporta seems determined not to acknowledge the progress made during the last seven years, consider her paragraph on the Atlanta City Design Project. She writes “the Atlanta City Design Project has made the preservation of green space as one of its top priorities,” but fails to acknowledge that the City Design Project is led by Planning Commissioner Tim Keane, who was recruited and hired by Mayor Reed.

Questions like “how can we develop our city without damaging our tree cover? How can we add to the amount of green space we have to better accommodate all the additional people who will be living in the city? And how can we best maintain our parks and green space to create a better quality of life for our residents?” are all essential, and the next Administration and City Council will need to work on these issues. But Saporta can’t pretend like the current Administration hasn’t been fully invested in addressing these matters.

Mayor Reed is in his last year in office, but that doesn’t mean he or his senior leaders like Parks and Recreation Commissioner Amy Phuong are slowing down or taking a break. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that the Mayor is keeping his foot on the gas pedal and is speeding up. For an example, look no further than the Mayor’s support of fast-tracking $3 million in TSPLOST funds for the Proctor Creek Greenway project, another greenspace and trail project on the Westside in historically underserved communities.

Loudermilk ribbon cutting ceremony

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed leads the ceremonial ribbon cutting at Loudermilk Park. Loudermilk is in a blue coat next to Reed. The others, from left to right, are Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead CID; Atlanta Councilmember Yolanda Adrean; Atlanta Councilman Howard Shook; and Atlanta parks Commissioner Amy Phuong. (Photo by David Pendered)

In May, we broke ground on Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Vine City, a $45 million, 16-acre park that will feature a playground and other interactive features. It will also pay tribute to Atlanta’s civil rights leaders and peacemakers and include the Dr. C.T. Vivian Library of African-American Literature. Last week, the City approved $3 million to turn two Buckhead lots into fully-equipped public parks. The parks, Pine Hills Park on Lenox Road and Old Ivy Park in North Buckhead, will feature park equipment, accessible walking paths, playgrounds, pavilions, plazas, bike racks and park benches.

Every community deserves quality, safe and well-maintained parks, and the City of Atlanta works every day to ensure that this happens, through its own funding, utilizing its own property, and through public-private partnerships with organizations such as the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the Atlanta Hawks.

In the last 18 months, the Atlanta Hawks Foundation has resurfaced and renovated four full basketball courts and one partial, accessible court at Centers of Hope across the city. At each ribbon cutting event, we have been thrilled to invite one of our youth participants to speak and share their stories. For Mayor Reed, watching these young people speak has been one of the highlights of his time in office. Kids like DeRon Stover, a participant in programming at the Center of Hope at Coan Park, exemplify what’s possible when we see our parks as more than acreage on a map; they can truly be the centers of thriving communities.

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.

1 reply
  1. Wormser Hats says:

    Now, I didn’t read one iota of scathing criticism against Reed’s Administration in Maria’s missive or Michael’s comments. While in the waning months of his administration, it would have been nice to believe that this was indeed atop Reed’s list of priorities, I read these articles as a “to-do” list, not a “left-undone” list.

    However, the defensive posture in his press secretary’s response starts looking eerily familiar to that of a truly embattled administration whose machinations we are only just beginning to endure at a national, if not global level.

    Back at home, while I’m heartened to know Reed’s administration acknowledges that our parks and recreation facilities are “one of the City’s most important assets,” it would be even more convincing if the track-record of this administration’s management of these assets were commensurate with their expressed regard.

    For your consideration, I present a single example: Brownwood Park in celebrated East Atlanta.

    It’s 13 acres of bucolic forest, one-half block south of East Atlanta Village and sequestered within the neighborhood. It has at-least half-century old recreation facilities, an as-yet unopened and unprogrammed public recreation center (it’s leased to a private non-profit), and is besieged by the Parks and Recreation Department’s stewardship of “one of the City’s most important assets”:

    Crumbling sidewalks and paths, few even accessible by the community’s elderly and handicapped citizens; blunt wrappers and crack-bags billowing across picnic areas like ticker-tape; perpetually inoperable nighttime lighting; pilfered manhole covers littering the park’s impaired Intrenchment Creek headwater; invasive weeds that – but for the community association, Trees Atlanta, Park Pride, and a handful of corporate citizens – would have long-ago condemned the park with kudzu, ivy, and a trove of other biological garbage; lawns scalped to the bare soil to minimize the frequency of mowing that is really required to maintain turf; and a failing stormwater management and piped-stream network that drains half of East Atlanta.

    And this is just one postage stamp-sized park.

    In her response for the administration, Ms. Garland tries painting a rosy picture – but the heavy lifting in caring for “one of the City’s most important assets,” has simply not occurred under Kassim Reed’s tenure.

    While troubling, quite frankly, I’m ok with that.

    Reed’s predecessor earned high-marks for initiating the truly dirty-work of cleaning up our streams and rivers and stimulating the momentum that gave us the Beltline. While Reed’s administration has done a very laudable job attracting top-tier business and investment in our city, bringing-in visionary leadership like that of Tim Keane, and not fighting to keep the “Boys of Summer” where they don’t dwell the other 365 days of the year. Moreover, he has buoyed the city through a very dismal economic challenge that nearly sunk other established cities. Even without a robust parks and recreation success-story, he can exit public office confident in the knowledge that the city is a better place for everyone, because of this service.

    Now, it’s time for our city to take the next bold steps toward a brighter future and the stewardship of “one of the City’s most important assets” must figure as prominently into that vision as any other form of economic and civic empowerment.

    Enjoy your laurels, your Honor, you rightly deserve them. (Just please don’t go trying to wear the ones that really aren’t yours. That will only serve to tarnish your legacy almost as surely as if it were an incomprehensible Tweet.)Report

    Reply

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