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People, Places & Parks Thought Leadership

Pushing Past Park Boundaries to Make Atlanta a More Livable City

By Michael Halicki, Executive Director, Park Pride

Last month, Park Pride and several environmental nonprofit partners hosted the Mayoral Forum on Greenspace, the culmination of our collective efforts to educate and hear from Atlanta’s next Mayor, (whomever it might be) on the importance and the complexity of parks and greenspace issues. Now, you can visit Park Pride’s website to see brief, 11-minute videos and read responses from each candidate as they share how they will be a champion for greenspace.

To be successful, the next Mayor will need to step up to the challenges faced by Atlanta’s green community, prioritizing the preservation of trees and nature, making a greater commitment to park maintenance in the City budget (Parks and Rec currently makes up less than 2% of the budget), and planning for the acquisition of more land for parks and urban forests to meet the needs of a growing population. Park Pride believes that everyone deserves access not just to a park, but a quality park, and Atlanta requires the leadership of a Greenspace Mayor to make this vision a reality.

Fulfilling the vision for parks and greenspace in Atlanta, however, cannot occur in isolation from other city priorities that impact people’s health, happiness, and quality of life. Affordable housing, regionalism, and active transportation, are three front and center issues within which parks need to find their place:  

  • Affordable Housing – Rising costs are placing additional burdens on existing homeowners who wish to remain in neighborhoods that are quickly becoming unaffordable. In the words of Atlanta Habitat for Humanity’s President and CEO, Lisa Y. Gordon, “There must be as much focus on resident retention as there is on developing affordable housing and infusing the historic neighborhoods with new families.” Affordable housing in Atlanta is about more than just home ownership. Rental costs across the region have nearly doubled since 2010. Failure to provide a range of rental and home ownership options puts in peril the role local, neighborhood park improvements can play in supporting inclusive community development.
  • Regionalism – The City of Atlanta is not an island within the Atlanta Region. While the Atlanta Beltline connects 45 intown neighborhoods through a 22-mile loop of multi-use trails, the PATH Foundation connects the region and the state (300 miles of trails in Georgia!) on a larger cross-jurisdictional scale. The day is coming, someday soon, when it will be possible to bike the Atlanta BeltLine to the Proctor Creek Greenway to the Silver Comet, all the way to the Alabama state line. Such an experience will change our sense of what it is like to live in this increasingly interconnected region.    
  • Active Transportation –  Active transportation includes biking and walking, as well as pedal assist electric bikes, scooters and other ways of getting around while staying active. Exciting advances in personal mobility (paired with increased traffic congestion) are making automobiles less attractive options for getting around the city. Roads and asphalt are part of the public realm that we’re getting to experience in new ways. To make the most of these public spaces, we need to prioritize accessibility over mobility. We need places designed for people and all forms of transportation they use.

Where do parks fit in to these conversations? Parks must be viewed holistically within the complex puzzle of a more livable city, but how can we make them connect? If a broader understanding of a more livable city (and region) appeals to you, join me for a conversation devoted to this topic at lunchtime on Tuesday, October 19th. Veteran journalist Maria Saporta will moderate the session, with a panel that includes Lisa Y. Gordon with Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, Doug Hooker with the Atlanta Regional Commission, and Rebecca Serna with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.  

Register (for free!) and join us for this interactive discussion as we push past park boundaries to make Atlanta a more livable City!


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