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People, Places & Parks Thought Leadership

The Parks We Need Now!

By Rachel Maher, Park Pride’s Director of Communications

As we continue to live amid a global health crisis—and assuredly will continue to do so for the foreseeable future—the role of parks and other outdoor spaces has never been more important.  

Since 2020, our need for parks has increased dramatically, and it’s become clear that parks are not nice-to-have amenities. We’ve relied on parks to be our outdoor oases. To be the places where we could safely meet with family and friends and combat social isolation. To be the places that we’ve gathered—sometimes in protest—to assert our shared beliefs and values. As park visitation skyrocketed during times where we couldn’t patron restaurants or entertainment districts, expectations for parks and outdoor spaces increased as well. And unfortunately, for far too many people across the country, the reality did not meet expectations.  

The world has fundamentally changed from “the before times,” and there’s no going back. We know that parks are critical urban infrastructure; we’ve experienced the truly essential services they provide that impact our everyday quality of life. And it’s about time that we begin to treat them as such. Which begs the question: can pre-pandemic design, management, and funding strategies keep pace with the increased reliance we have on parks? What comes next? 

This is the central question that we’ll explore at Park Pride’s 21st Annual Parks & Greenspace Conference, taking place at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Monday, March 28th. Together with local and national thought leaders, we’ll explore new strategies and actions to create the parks and park systems that communities need now, with special attention paid to issues relating to: 

  • Health 
  • Equity 
  • Funding 
  • Safety, and 
  • Resilience + climate change. 

We have several amazing keynote speakers lined up who will present a fresh take on the biggest questions facing parks and park systems, and the steps that must be taken to address our most pressing (and persistent) issues.  

Neelay Bhatt
Principal, PROS Consulting, Inc.  
As the Principal at PROS Consulting, Neelay has been involved in 130+ Strategic / Master Planning projects (including Atlanta’s Activate ATL: Recreation & Parks for All) which are helping shape a better vision for equity, health and wellness, and conservation globally. Neelay will share lessons learned and best practices from across the country, as well as share global trends in the renewed focus on parks and recreation systems.  

Norma Edith García-González
Director, County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation
Norma E. García-González is proudly the first woman to serve in the post of Director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. In her role, she is responsible for the Department’s day-to-day operations of 182 facilities that include an annual budget of $256 million, more than 2,600 employees and 6,477 registered volunteers. Mrs. García-González is an advocate for the well-being of children and families. She will share her department’s innovative and progressive strategies to advance green equity within communities throughout LA County.   

Akiima Price
Akiima Price Consulting
Akiima Price is a creative thinker and doer who links people, places, and programs with stressed, underserved communities. Her innovative programming strategies are based on the intersection of social and environmental issues, featuring nature as a powerful medium to connect youth, adults, and families in positive experiences that affect the way they feel about themselves, their communities, and their parks. Ms. Price recently co-founded the Friends of Anacostia Park and will share her framework that innovates meaningful ways to use park experiences to address mental, physical, and social wellness in marginalized communities. 

Meghan Talarowski
Executive Director, Studio Ludo 
Meghan Talarowski is the founder and executive director of Studio Ludo, a research, advocacy, and playground design nonprofit rooted in the belief that play environments in the United States can, and should, be better.  She is a landscape architect and certified playground safety inspector with almost 20 years in the design field. Ms. Talarowski will share her research, focused on how the design of play environments impacts physical health and social behavior. 

Mark your calendar and join us! The 2022 Parks and Greenspace Conference will be held in-person at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Monday, March 28 (you can read our Enhanced COVID-19 Safety Procedures and Health Pledge on our website). Registration is open. 

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