By Michael Halicki, Executive Director 

This month marks my 10-year anniversary as Park Pride’s executive director. Prior to Park Pride, I was somewhat of a rolling stone gathering no moss, moving from one environmental nonprofit to the next, learning from each but never staying put for too long. I attribute my staying power in large part to my genuine love of the organization, the mission, the people (extraordinary board and staff, past and present), and, of course, the exceptional parks and greenspaces that have been the focus of my waking hours, and occasionally my dreams. 

I am a different person than I was 10 years ago; today, I am a “parks” person through and through. Let me share with you some of the reasons I love parks and why I do what I do at Park Pride: 

Reason #1: Parks are unique.   

Prior to my time at Park Pride, I never fully appreciated the range of sizes, shapes and functions of what we call “parks” and ways that these public spaces enrich our lives. Peter Harnik wrote a book called Urban Green: Innovating Parks for Resurgent Cities that was part of my education when I first came to Park Pride in 2013. This book inspired an open-ended definition of what constitutes a park that continues to grow and expand.  

Reason #2: Parks are both very simple and incredibly complex.   

The dichotomy between the simple and complex nature of parks is something I find endlessly fascinating. At their core, the idea of a public park is exceptional in its simplicity: parks are places where people escape the demands of daily life and connect with the outdoors, where everyone belongs and is welcome.  

At the same time, creating parks that live up to these aspirations is complicated. The multitude of disciplines needed to design, build, maintain, and then activate a park is more extensive than you may realize.  

Adding to the complexity, what qualifies as a “great park” is dependent on the needs and desires of each unique community. And as that community changes, so too must its park.  

Reason #3: Parks are transformational.   

I’ve seen it time and again. Community-driven improvements in a neighborhood park can have positive effects that ripple out to the larger community. Fixing what is broken tends to awaken a sense of stewardship and empowerment. Refreshing a deteriorating playground, for example, can increase a sense of community pride and encourage neighborhood advocates to seek additional community benefits, both inside and outside the park, thereby elevating the experience of the whole neighborhood.   

Reason #4: Parks aren’t just about parks.   

Parks are not islands unto themselves. Hold a public meeting about a park and what residents bring to that meeting encompass far more than the park’s physical footprint: will improvements increase traffic? Can we encourage access to the park by foot or bike? If we improve the park, will we increase property values, making it more difficult for legacy residents to enjoy the benefits and stay in the neighborhood?  Working on greenspaces requires the lateral vision to look at related community issues. While parks can present challenges, they are also at the center of issues that define the neighborhood experience.   

Reason #5: Parks make life better.   

Thinking about my experiences over the last decade, many of my most joyful memories took place in parks. During the pandemic, parks gave us an outlet and made life livable. Since that time, I have seen a renewed appreciation of parks where people live. As Atlanta and surrounding areas continue to grow, it will be important to grow our parks as we add population. People need places to connect with nature. Parks make life better, and they are an essential ingredient as our region continues to grow.     

Reason #6: Parks belong to all of us.   

Audrey Peterman writes eloquently in Legacy of the Land how the National Park system is the “national inheritance” of every person living and breathing in the United States.  I feel the same way about local parks. Local parks are where we spend the majority of our “greenspace time” through the span of our lives. They belong to each and every one of us, ours to experience and enjoy.    

So, get out there and enjoy them. Work with me and with Park Pride to make them better. Learn how at  

Join the Conversation


  1. Michael, love this column. It’s been my pleasure to see you become immersed as executive director of Park Pride. You have brought even more passion and energy to a nonprofit that has made a real difference in our city. Thank you for what you do and for your entire team – from staff to all the Friends groups to the Green Cabinet and all the other environmental organizations you have strengthened.

  2. Michael, thanks for highlighting the great value of parks to our community. While, you may have “gathered no moss” in your early career of working with environmental nonprofits, you certainly made a lasting mark with each. Southface was no exception. Thank you for years of visionary, servant leadership.

  3. I am overjoyed to read of your unfolding, beloved Michael! It’s true that once you’ve been bitten by the parks bug, you never recover if you’re lucky. Thank you for mentioning me. You inspire me as much as I inspire you. Bless you. Park Pride Forever!

  4. As a new and up and coming Conservancy at the Rodney Cook, Sr. Park in historic Vine City, I am happy to have Michael Halicki as a mentor and friend. He has been and is invaluable to our beginning and growth.
    Congratulations, Michael on your 10th anniversary with Park Pride !!!

  5. We are grateful to have you with such passion, commitment and strong leadership for our Parks Michael!!! Congratulations on leading such an impactful organization to reach so many citizens with great parks.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.