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The Time is Right for Positive Change

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Atlanta Commissioner of Parks & Recreation, John Dargle, addresses Atlanta City Council.

Atlanta Commissioner of Parks & Recreation, John Dargle, addresses Atlanta City Council.

By Michael Halicki, Executive Director, Park Pride

I had the good fortune to be in the room at an Atlanta City Council committee meeting last week when Atlanta Parks Commissioner John Dargle recounted his observations since taking on his role 5+ months ago. This column is an attempt to share his observations and layer on my own from my vantage point at Park Pride.

Despite his relatively short period of time in his role, I was struck by the Commissioner’s clear understanding of the challenges facing Atlanta’s Department of Parks and Recreation (and his forthcomingness in conveying those issues to City Council).

Much of what Dargle spoke of fell into the category of what I would call “getting our house in order” to meet growing demands and increasing expectations. For example, one of his slides included the following bullets under the heading “Observations / Challenges”:

  • Universal passion
  • Address aging infrastructure and the cost of doing business
  • Update and implement policies, plans, procedures, and performance practices
  • Expand marketing and communication resources
  • Implement aggressive entrepreneurial opportunities that would dramatically improve revenue generation and manage costs
  • Grow human and financial resources to care for our natural capital
  • Bolster alternative funding and partnerships as a means to assist with service delivery and park developments/improvements
  • Tackle trail maintenance and management need

Slide from Commissioner Dargle’s presentation to Atlanta City Council.

 

Also included under this heading were elements that suggested a greater emphasis on community and a desire to meet a broader set of community needs through parks. These bullets included things like:

  • Pursue critical park and recreation data the community most values and needs
  • Balance the recreation and parks portfolio to deliver complementary services that meet community needs
  • Reposition department to resolve community issues

The framework for addressing much of what was covered in Dargle’s presentation is the Comprehensive Parks & Recreation Master Plan. While this effort started under the previous administration, it is receiving a fresh look under Dargle’s leadership. As before, this effort will align with the Atlanta City Design and its five core values of: Equity, Progress, Ambition, Access and Nature.

There are some aspects of this plan, however, that have begun to take on new areas of emphasis. First, Dargle spoke of his desire to incorporate programming and recreation, a change which could have ramifications not just for the Office of Recreation, but also programming outside of recreation centers.  

Former Commissioner of Atlanta’s Dept. of Parks & Recreation, Amy Phuong (center), celebrates the Mayor’s signing of the 10-Minute Walk Campaign with The Trust for Public Land’s State Director, Georgia and Alabama, George Dusenbury (left), and Park Pride’s Executive Director, Michael Halicki (right).

Second, there is an increased emphasis on land acquisition. Dargle references Project Greenspace (a plan from 2009 that identified policies and actions to guide the preservation, management, and use of the City’s greenspace) and its goal of having 20% of City-owned land be protected greenspace, proposing that this be a starting point for the Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Currently, only 5.9% of the City of Atlanta is protected as parkland and/or greenspace. As our city grows in population, we will need to grow our network of parks, trails and greenspaces to meet the needs of this growing population.

Third, there is an ambitious goal for increasing access to parks. Presently, one third of Atlantans do not live within a 10-minute walk of park. Dargle highlighted Mayor Bottom’s commitment to the Trust for Public Land’s 10-Minute Walk Campaign; last fall, she joined 150 mayors across the United States in signing on to the vision statement that “everyone deserves a park or open space within a 10-minute walk of home.”

More recently, however, Mayor Bottoms affirmed her commitment to this pledge herself in front of a packed hall at last month’s Parks and Greenspace Conference and at last week’s Landmark Luncheon held by Piedmont Park Conservancy. Equitable access to quality parks, it seems, is at the very top of the public agenda.  

I am encouraged by what the Mayor has said and continues to say about equitable access to quality parks. I was also encouraged by the level of engagement from the members of Atlanta City Council who were present at Commissioner Dargle’s presentation and who made a number of interesting comments*. It was clear that Councilmembers have been hearing from constituents about their parks and are beginning to explore solutions.

Taken together, it is clear to me that the time is right for positive change in ways that benefit communities who care about their parks. Now is the time to engage and make a difference for “your” park and for parks throughout the city!

Take the time to reach out to your Atlanta City Councilmember, Atlanta’s Department of Parks & Recreation, and your friends at Park Pride to share your thoughts on how best to improve your local park or how best to increase access to quality parks and greenspaces within your neighborhood. With your help, we can work towards the goal that every Atlantan lives within a 10-minute walk of a quality park.

 


Photo Top: Atlanta Parks Commissioner, John Dargle (front left), meets with and responds to community concerns at Park Pride’s monthly Park Meeting.

Footnote:

*Councilmembers had a number of things to say including:

  • It is hard to get to a park if you live in a place without sidewalks (Dustin Hillis).  
  • Need to engage entrepreneurs and to be more entrepreneurial (Antonio Brown).
  • Need to activate underutilized parks (Joyce Sheperd).
  • The need for a major destination park on Atlanta’s Southside (Marci Overstreet).  
  • Need dedicated funding for parks and to explore funding models from other cities (Matt Westmoreland).

Slide from Commissioner Dargle’s presentation to Atlanta City Council highlighting next steps for the Department of Parks & Recreation.

 

 

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