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.
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.
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.
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.
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.