The Making of the Next Greenspace Mayor
By Michael Halicki, Park Pride’s Executive Director
Park Pride and our greenspace partners have been hard at work through the better part of this year attempting to develop a rapport with the next Mayor of the City of Atlanta. The challenge, at this particular point in time, is that we don’t know who that person will be. As of the August 20th filing, there were 14 candidates who claimed to be up to the job. However, at the race’s conclusion there can be only one.
In an effort to help Atlanta’s greenspace advocates and supporters narrow the field, Park Pride and 13 partner nonprofits hosted the Mayoral Forum on Greenspace on Wednesday, September 8. Our goal was to learn how each candidate’s administration would value and approach Atlanta’s natural spaces, trees, waterways, and parks and recreation system in the years to come.
Moderated by retired WSB news reporter, anchor, and producer, Joselyn Dorsey, the forum elevated the public dialogue in this year’s mayoral race around parks, trees and a broad set of greenspace and green equity issues.
Ten candidates participated in the Mayoral Forum on Greenspace, including: Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Sharon Gay, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Kasim Reed, Walter Reeves, Roosevelt Searles III, and Richard Wright. Glenn Wrightson was unable to be reached.
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, Councilmember Andre Dickens, and Councilmember Antonio Brown were unfortunately unable to attend due to pressing council business but have committed to providing recorded responses to the questions they would have been asked. Those video responses, along with the video responses of each of the candidates at the forum, will be made public. Each candidate has also been invited to provide written responses to all the questions asked at the event. Both the videos and the written responses will be made available by the end of this month in plenty of time for you to review in advance of voting on November 2!
In reflecting on the Forum and the path ahead, I have a few observations worth noting:
- The path to becoming Mayor is a grueling and winding road with many sharp turns. This path defines the person who ultimately is given the privilege to sit in the chair. Candidate platforms evolve during the campaign and the character of each is revealed. This is a good thing and something to bear in mind as we evaluate each candidate. In today’s changing times, adaptability is a job requirement.
- Campaign season is a strange time of lofty goals that are likely to be remembered differently depending on your vantage point. As our greenspace partners came together, we decided early on to refrain from “gotcha questions” more in favor of developing a relationship and a common understanding with whomever should be the next Mayor. The pressures facing the next Mayor are many. Our greenspace partners are advocates, yes, but we are also part of the productive capacity to advance our respective issues.
- Complex challenges are unlikely to yield pain-free answers. In the example of lack of resources for park maintenance, as just one example, we heard some ideas that were put forward that could be generously described as “win-win.” These suggestions included volunteer cleanups by neighbors or corporate groups in lieu of the financial resources to maintain our parks to a higher standard. Such ideas may sound encouraging to those who don’t live and breathe parks as I do. To my ear, I find such suggestions a little unsettling. Would we suggest a similar “citizen-powered” solution to a lack of resources for trash pickup? Delivery of safe drinking water or sewer services? How do we bring elected decisionmakers to understand that parks are critical infrastructure that need the same level of support as other basic city services?
Atlanta’s next Mayor has the opportunity to become a greenspace champion, and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves to help as advisors and implementors of the changes we wish to see in the world.
The greenspace partners that hosted the Mayoral Forum on Greenspace deserve to be elevated and called out by name: Park Pride, Georgia Audubon, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, The Nature Conservancy, Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, The Conservation Fund, EarthShare of Georgia, Eco-Action, Georgia Conservancy, Piedmont Park Conservancy, Greening Youth Foundation, Trees Atlanta, The Trust for Public Land, and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance. Thank you all for your contributions to this effort and for helping to drive the conversation forward.
Now, we need your help to go beyond the conversation; it’s time for action. Get involved, volunteer, and support the list of organizations above as if your environment depends on it. Because it does. And VOTE. Mark your calendars: November 2. Make sure you’re registered, and get registered if you’re not: registertovote.sos.ga.gov
The future of our city and greenspace depends on it!