The importance of greenspace during a global pandemic
By ULI’s Atlanta Community Schoolyards Project Team
When Atlanta Community Schoolyards launched its pilot project with ULI Atlanta, the Trust for Public Land, Park Pride, and Atlanta Public Schools in early 2019, the idea of a global pandemic halting daily activity and life was not in our national vernacular. Since the shutdown of March 2020, the importance of parks and greenspace has skyrocketed as families living in urban environments seek reprieve from the daily monotony of virtual work and school.
This is a significant opportunity for projects like the 10-Minute Walk Campaign – which seeks to ensure a park within a ten-minute walk of every person in every neighborhood in cities across the United States. In Atlanta, this campaign has taken the form of an initiative called the Atlanta Community Schoolyards project, demonstrating the feasibility of using schoolyards as shared public space and enhancing our communities by making a close-to-home park within a 10-minute walk a reality for all Atlantans.
ULI Atlanta’s primary goal for participation in this project is to advance inclusive, welcoming, and sustainable communities. Walkability adds value to a community, allowing children to walk safely to school and provides families with options to more easily access transportation alternatives. ULI has long advocated for the fact that a walkable community is key to a healthy community. What we have learned in 2020 is that the opportunity to walk and safely gather outdoors is inextricably linked to our individual and community health.
During the 2019 pilot year, ULI Atlanta conducted walk analyses within a half-mile radius of each school, generally representing the distance that an average adult can walk in ten minutes. The first two schools to participant were Dobbs Elementary and Kimberly Elementary.
In 2020, four more schools were added to the project’s cohort, including:
- Centennial Academy. See recent CBS46 feature here.
- Harper-Archer Elementary School
- Miles Elementary School
- Sarah Smith Elementary School. See ULI’s report here.
Each school selected represents a broad cross-section of APS school clusters and geographic diversity within the city (with schools in the north, south, east, and west). The information collected and related analysis by the ULI Atlanta team are intended to serve as the foundation for the improvements needed to achieve the goals of the 10-Minute Walk Campaign in each school community – a walk that Jeff Speck author of Walkable City describes as useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. The challenge for the Atlanta region is to find ways to create more walkable environments that incorporate these four key principles, which are simple in concept but challenging in execution.
ULI Atlanta completed the walk assessments of the four schools over the Summer of 2020 with a small, dedicated group of member volunteers. Following ULI’s walkability assessments, TPL and Park Pride are virtually engaging schoolchildren and residents from the surrounding communities to give input on design improvements to their communities’ schoolyard. Construction will soon follow, bringing those designs to life, creating inviting, accessible, and safe spaces for school-day play, after-hours recreation, and much needed community greenspace, the importance underscored now by a global pandemic. We all seek to imagine a world that is better, stronger, more resilient when we can be back together. Community Schoolyards is one small but meaningful way we can make our communities better for today and when we come out on the other side.
The Urban Land Institute would like to thank the ULI Atlanta member volunteers who have spent countless hours leading this project to advance the goals of the 10-Minute Walk Campaign in Atlanta. This project could not have been completed without them. A special thank you goes to:
- Janet Bozeman, Hyatt & Stubblefileld
- Steve Foster, Georgia Power
- Alex Heaton, Morris, Manning, & Martin
- Lauren Standish, HGOR
- Daphne Bond-Godfrey, ULI Atlanta (project staff)
Finally, a special thank you to Georgia Power for the data and technology partnership in producing this report.