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So sad: Midtown/Grady High’s front lawn becoming a parking lot

AFTER: Midtown/Grady High's front lawn on July 11, 2021 as it's being turned into a parking lot (Photo by David Luse)

By Maria Saporta

It’s hard to believe this is actually happening.

Midtown (formerly known as Grady) High School’s historic front lawn is being turned into a parking lot.

Here we are in 2021 – in a city that is supposed to be opposed to creating new surface parking lots and converting green space to parking; in a city that is supposed to working against heat islands and climate change; in a city that’s supposed to be promoting alternative modes of transportation – walking, cycling, transit – to get around.

Midtown/Grady High’s front entrance now a driveway to the parking lot rather than a walkway (Photo by David Luse)

But the powers that be at Atlanta Public Schools were able to cut down old-growth trees and ramrod the parking lot onto Midtown/Grady High’s front lawn – despite minimal neighborhood involvement and despite the parking lot being detrimental to the city’s urban design.

We should know better in 2021.

After all, the Atlanta Public Schools is working to make the grounds of several of its schools into public green space that can add to the city’s overall parks infrastructure.

Midtown’s/Grady’s front lawn served as a wonderful green bridge between the community and Piedmont Park – providing a cooling amenity to the Midtown Garden District (the name of the surrounding neighborhood).

The High School also will be developing another surface parking lot just north of the former green front lawn adjacent to the new addition that is supposed to open up during the upcoming school year.

What lesson does that teach the students of Midtown/Grady High? And what message does that send to the community about how APS interfaces with its surrounding neighbors?

Now people walking between Midtown to the park will have to be on the lookout for cars coming in and out of the former front lawn, creating even a greater danger to pedestrians on the sidewalks or cyclists on the streets.

Sidewalk that leads to Piedmont Park along Midtown/Grady High now interrupted with two curb cuts to let cars in and out of the parking lot that’s being developed on the front lawn (Photo by David Luse)

Sadly, there were other solutions that should have been considered.

An easy solution would have been to turn the city parking spaces along Charles Allen Drive from parallel parking to diagonal parking, which would have doubled the number of spaces on the street and removed the need for the parking lot on Midtown/Grady High’s front lawn.

A City of Atlanta-APS agreement could have reserved those spaces for the High School during school hours, and then those spaces would have been available to the general public on evenings and weekends.

Although I’m not a fan of more parking in the Midtown community, at least that solution would have repurposed existing asphalt rather than creating another parking lot.

Before writing this column, I did reach out to APS, which provided the following statement:

“In order to provide ample parking for the faculty and staff at Midtown High School, extra parking spaces have been added to the campus. This new parking facility also includes a full greenspace area, featuring various trees, plants and shrubs, that will add even more beauty to the aesthetics of the Midtown community.”

So, APS, which cut down trees in its front lawn and removed the natural green lawn that has adorned the school for decades, is going to landscape the land around the parking lot.

Midtown/Grady High’s front lawn housed mobile trailers in 2020 while APS was expanding the school (Photo by Maria Saporta)

I’m sorry. I just don’t buy it.

We as a city deserve better. We deserve an Atlanta Board of Education that is much more sensitive to the relationship between the city’s schools and its neighborhoods. We deserve a city that converts parking lots into green space – not the other way around. And we deserve a city that is committed to creating an environment for non-vehicular modes of transportation.

Personally, it makes me especially sad.

In an earlier column, I did make an appeal to the city and APS to not turn the front lawn into a parking lot. Sadly, my words fell on deaf ears, and that makes me sad.

Now, as an across the street neighbor, I will have to live with the daily reminder of this loss of public green space. And it will be a constant reminder of our city’s/APS’ shortcomings to preserve a pedestrian-friendly and environmentally-friendly space for our residents and visitors.

Atlanta, we can do better than this.

BEFORE: Midtown/Grady High’s historic front lawn in 2019 before it was turned into a parking lot and before several trees were cut down (Photo by Maria Saporta)

AFTER: Midtown/Grady High’s front lawn on July 11, 2021 as it’s being turned into a parking lot (Photo by David Luse)

BEFORE: Midtown/Grady High’s front lawn in 2019 before it was turned into a parking lot (Photo by Maria Saporta)

AFTER: Midtown/Grady High’s front lawn on Sunday, July 11, 2021 as the parking lot is under construction (Photo by David Luse)

Maria Saporta

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.


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  1. Epikone July 12, 2021 5:39 pm

    It was beautiful before they cut thoss trees down..real sad since i pass there daily walking to work or excercise.Report

  2. Dana F. Blankenhorn July 13, 2021 9:35 am

    This is precisely what the city is trying to do in jamming intense residential development. If you’re going to have intense residential development, you need a lot more parks, an a lot more trees, or else you’re a heat sink. Atlanta remains one of the most under-parked big cities in America, with most of them built at scale. We need small parks and vest pocket parks before we destroy the tree canopy in residential districts.Report

  3. Wormser Hats July 13, 2021 9:37 am

    Beloved Community?

    Not in my ATL!Report

  4. Shannon July 13, 2021 9:38 am

    If only it were the only thing that APS has failed to listen to the community about. The current administration truly doesn’t care what anyone thinks and are content in their own echo chamber.Report

  5. Michael Baxter July 13, 2021 9:53 am

    This is real shame. The ‘before’ pictures show that an exploration thoughtful and creative ideas was merited. We have to do better.Report

  6. Gary Ratner July 13, 2021 9:55 am

    Worse still, part of the motivation for APS’s decision was based on the insistence that all entry to the building during school hours go through a single “securable” entrance. But does is this anything more than “security theater” to a determined assailant?Report

  7. Robert July 13, 2021 10:06 am

    And as salt into the wound, the contractor, Parrish Construction Group, is blatantly ignoring ordinance specified tree protection requirements for the remaining trees thus ensuring they will be dead within a year or so.Report

  8. Susan Pierce Cunningham July 13, 2021 10:17 am

    I personally planted some of those trees with students over the last 16 years. We used the lovely greenspace in the front of the school for outdoor classes about trees. Like a previous commenter, I’m also concerned about the equipment under the large oak in one of the photos. Does APS not have to follow the specifications in the tree ordinance for construction?Report

  9. Anne Farrisee July 13, 2021 10:43 am

    Sickening, just sickening.
    A better tree ordinance would not have stopped this, but all the more reason for stronger protection on what is left. What’s the status on the proposed revised stronger tree ordinance? You last reported its being discussed in late June.Report

  10. Angela July 13, 2021 11:29 am

    As a native of ATL and a Grady High alum.. THIS MAKES ME SOOO SICK!!!

    First an insult with the new name now THIS!! What happen to a desire and commitment to green space and keeping communities environmentally safe!
    BUT NOOOOO….. MORE CONCRETE!!!! ! What happens to the special memorials and plaques on the front lawn. ?? WHY IS THIS NECESSARY!!! There is always a better way.. a better solution than simply to tear down and pave over!!!
    SHAME SHAME SHAME!!! SO UPSETTING!!!!! Thank you Maria .. for letting those us of who care and not in the city at the present time.. know how slowly .. yet intentionally , how history is being destroyed!!!!!Report

  11. Kristin O July 13, 2021 1:52 pm

    Such a shame and so sad. APS has really taken a nosedive with the new administration. Maybe this would have still happened under Meria, but she was much more connected with her community. We moved out of Atlanta (and APS) for a few reasons, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the way the last school year was handled. First nine weeks virtual – understand. Second nine weeks when we had evidence of successful school re-openings with no major C19 outbreaks and no documented student-to-teacher transmission anywhere in the world, even with increasing #s – HUH? Now +30 minutes next year to make up for lost learning… give me a freaking break. I want to know how many families have left APS for good. I know so many who have moved and others who have gone private and won’t go back. I realize we are the fortunate ones with the resources to do so, which makes it even sadder – the increasing divide. Just another misstep that cannot be reversed.Report

  12. James Reese July 13, 2021 3:07 pm

    As an Atlanta native and former Fourth Ward resident who walked to Piedmont Park back in the day when it had a golf course, I can attest to the beauty of the lawn. Now living south of Atlanta some 40+ years later, I can also attest to the dread I feel about the parking situation when I attend the ocassional sporting event at the high school. To be frank I avoid PIedmont Park altogether because of the lack of parking. I’m sure the residents around the park want nothing more than fewer visitors. It’s too bad they chose to live near the largest park in the city.

    Losing the lawn is sad, but it was sadder a few years ago when the old lady was killed crossing 10th Street near Monroe after attending a football game that night at the stadium. I left the game just before the accident to avoid getting a ticket in the shopping center lot across Monroe. I attended Atlanta Schools and played at Grady Stadium growing up. I’ve never understood why that stadium was allowed to remain when it lacked sufficient parking. The removal of the lawn is the result of APS need to satisfy the school community around Grady by not removing the stadium. That stadium should have been shutdown for competition years ago. APS has built new off-campus practice facilities for Grady unlike any other school, again making sure the Midtown district is happy. Meanwhile they spent $50+M on North Atlanta in Buckhead where they could have put a new stadium to replace Grady, thus the lawn would still be intact. BTW APS has never spent that type of money on any of the schools south of I-20.Report

  13. Mike V July 13, 2021 5:11 pm

    One more example of this new administration running the school system like their own fiefdom (see: new school schedule). Maria described what sounded like a perfectly reasonable alternative for parking. Was it even considered? Along with residential lots being built out to the maximum allowed impervious surface so builders can cash in on selling ‘duplexes’, we now have our school administration adding more impervious surface without a care for neighbors or the impact the change will have on local stormwater runoff and urban heat island at the school. I’m sure the crape myrtles they plant (because they are one of the few trees that can grow in a parking lot) will make us all forget the oaks they just tore down. My son is scheduled to be there as a freshman in 2022. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the fine parking area out front much more than the shade he might have enjoyed instead.Report

  14. Cora Ann July 13, 2021 6:52 pm

    What short-sighted, utterly unnecessary destruction of a carbon-dioxide-consuming, shade and habitat and beauty-providing, ecologically educational stand of trees, which actually in the big scheme of things is WAY more important to the functionality of the community than another concrete-slab parking lot–especially since there were other ways to provide for additional parking, as Maria points out. The double APS crime is that their part of our property tax goes insanely higher every year–also decimating neighborhoods via displacement–and that money then gets spent on insanity like this!Report

  15. Jack Arogeti Grady class of ‘71 July 13, 2021 9:43 pm

    Doesn’t Midtown Alliance have any say here? Surely, their land use influence with City of Atlanta can intervene. So sad to see temporary decision makers making permanent, even irreversible, poor decisionsReport

    1. Mark July 14, 2021 8:19 am

      Jack this is not in the Midtown Alliance’s area of responsibility, they work the commercial/highrise areas closer to Peachtree. This is in the Midtown Neighborhood’s area.Report

      1. Jack Arogeti July 15, 2021 2:53 pm

        Mark, are you suggesting all of this was supported by Midtown neighbor group(s) ? Posting this on NextDoor is hardly casting a wide net of affected parties. And to someone’s earlier point, why not slanted parking slots to better utilize land use for incremental parking?Report

  16. Julia Bernath July 13, 2021 10:42 pm

    Breaks my heart!Report

  17. Dariv - Grady class of '59 July 13, 2021 10:55 pm

    Appalling. Glad I moved away years ago from the mind-set that makes these kinds of decisions. The Atlanta School Board has a deconstructionist point of view that favors neither beauty nor environment. I pity the students who must try to learn in these arid conditions.Report

  18. Mark July 14, 2021 8:22 am

    About a year ago we posted this info on Nextdoor. Surprisingly, many parents of students supported this parking lot (of course these parents lived further away and likely do not walk past the high school). they did not want their children using pubic transportation, or walking/riding bikes to school. Another major concern was after school activities, where the parents wanted their children to drive to school, so that they could drive to after school events without the parents driving them. Thus they wanted much more parking at the school. This attitude was expressed by a surprisingly large portion of parents.Report

  19. MN July 14, 2021 2:16 pm

    Why isn’t this labeled ‘opinion’? Probably the same reason this publication has to run puff pieces from corporate sponsors. You complained about having a smaller dog park, there was a series of community meetings, modifications to the plans we’re made, and yet the final was not to your liking. Travesty! Like community meeting about the expansion of Inman, many ‘diehard’ Atlantans without school age children care much more for the trees and their dogs the the children of the city. Midtown HS enrollment continues to grow, that takes space. There are lots of empty corners of Atlanta where you can move and plant as many trees as you like.Report

    1. Maria Saporta July 14, 2021 5:50 pm

      Maria’s Metro is my weekly column where I share my perspectives, insights and opinions. It is labeled in the “Featured columns” section. Our corporate sponsors have their logos on the site. But there are no “puff” pieces that they write on the site. Thanks for reading.Report

    2. Cora Ann July 15, 2021 4:34 pm

      I would argue that those who are disturbed by the removal of these trees are deeply concerned about the children of the city–and their future on the planet.Report

  20. Eric H July 14, 2021 10:33 pm

    Sort of like another story, https://saportareport.com/murphey-candler-park-construction/sections/reports/hannah/ Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and Brookhaven Council Member Linley Jones have no understanding of why people like Car Free natural areas. By introducing cars into a beautiful natural area in the park next to Murphey Candler Lake by converting a pedestrian/bike amenity into a road and 44 parking spaces they are damaging a sorely needed counter weight to Metro Atlanta’s over dependence on cars. It is a huge diversity of people who use the natural areas of the park, sadly people just enjoying the park don’t generate revenue or are difficult to quantify since it is a very diverse group of users and the city wants to award contracts because that spending money generates benefits for those directing it. Especially frustrating since there is no shortage of parking along the street that runs a long this natural area of the Park.Report

  21. Ben-Fox Kushner July 19, 2021 1:47 pm

    If a developer wanted to blade beautiful trees to make room for a parking lot in front of an historic building, the chances of approval would have been as great as asking to pave the Chattahoochee. APS has been a dumpster fire since Crim left and passed away. Its an embarrassment.Report


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