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People, Places & Parks Thought Leadership

The Nature of Our City

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by Teri Nye, Park Pride Project Manager

At the beginning of each year, I take stock of the park planning projects in the year ahead. Atlanta is a small, small point of the planet, but with news of each storm, flood, drought, and raging fire around the world, I see that Park Pride’s work in parks and greenspaces must support the critical role that nature plays in maintaining our quality of life.

Even without this pressure, 2020 is an ambitious year for Park Pride. Not only are we playing a role supporting the public engagement effort for the City of Atlanta’s Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan, but also:

  • the Nature for All – Atlanta initiative will launch in earnest, in partnership with Trees Atlanta and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (with the support of the Turner Foundation), and
  • the first wave of the three year pilot of the Atlanta Community Schoolyards Initiative (which will open schoolyards in “park-poor neighborhoods” when school is out of session) will wrap-up, and we will kick off a new round of school projects.  This project is done in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, Urban Land Institute and Atlanta Public Schools.

Everyone deserves access to nature has emerged as the unofficial theme of Park Pride’s focus in 2020. For this reason, we decided to officially make nature the focus of the 2020 Parks and Greenspace Conference under the title The Nature of Our City

For many, urban parks are one of the few places to escape the bustle of city life and to experience the regular, and replenishing, joys of nature. Unfortunately, throughout history, parks have too often been considered a “nice to have” amenity: a luxury for boom times, but typically first on the chopping block during economic downturns. During those downturns, the maintenance of many parks is whittled down to essentials only; sometimes, the “essentials only” approach to maintenance remains a lingering challenge even as budgets rebound. 

We now realize that parks and nature  are essential elements of a healthy city. Just as we know that access to parks and nature help people cope with their lives by providing emotional and physical benefits, they also help cities cope with daily stressors. Parks are vital infrastructure and offer public services: they control floods, relieve our sewers, replenish our water reserves, and stabilize our soils. They are, in fact, as essential to our cities as clean drinking water, medical care, and reliable sanitation. Parks also preserve habitats for a complex mix of resident and migrating wildlife.   

Park Pride’s conference will approach our exploration of The Nature of Our City through several lenses: 

  • Parks and health
  • Access to nature
  • Parks as natural infrastructure
  • Parks as habitats
  • Parks as reflections of a city’s character

We have several amazing keynote speakers lined up who will give us a holistic understanding of the important role that nature plays in creating, maintaining, and defining a city.

Diane Jones Allen, D. Eng., ASLA, RLA
Program Director for Landscape Architecture, College of Architecture Planning and Public Affairs, University of Texas, Arlington.
Principal Landscape Architect and Owner, DesignJones, LLC.

Diane Jones Allen’s research and practice is guided by the intersection of environmental justice, identity, and sustainability in cultural landscapes.   

She is also dedicated to helping cities develop resiliency in the face of climate change and climate-related stressors. In 2017, she participated as a member of the ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resiliency. Diane also serves on the Board of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), contributing to the diversity and climate change sub-committees. 

David G. Haskell, Ph.D. 

David Haskell’s work as a writer, scientist, and sound recordist reminds us that life’s substance and beauty emerge from relationship and interdependence. His first book, The Forest Unseen, was finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction and received numerous other honors. Haskell’s latest book, The Songs of Trees, examines the life-giving links between people and trees. 

 

Drew Lanham, Ph.D.

Drew Lanham is a professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University. In his teaching, research, and outreach roles, Drew seeks to translate conservation science to make it relevant to others in ways that are evocative and understandable. As a Black American, he is intrigued with how culture and ethnic prisms can bend perceptions of nature and its care. His research focuses on songbird ecology, as well as the African-American role in natural-resources conservation. Lanham is an author and award-nominated poet; The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, was published in 2016, and Sparrow Envy in 2017.

Kristine Stratton, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)

A staunch advocate for environmental conservation and equity issues, Stratton believes strongly in NRPA’s mission to advance parks, recreation and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all people. Her belief that everyone has the right to clean water and a healthy environment aligns with NRPA’s vision that everyone deserves a great park. 

Mark your calendar. The 2020 Parks and Greenspace Conference will be held at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Monday, March 23. Early-bird registration is now open. I hope you’ll join us to be inspired by these keynotes and help ensure that, over the next decade, nature in Atlanta becomes accessible to everyone! 

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