Photo by: Ben Dutton

By Michael Halicki, Executive Director at Park Pride 

Typically, December is a time to reflect over the last year and take stock of what we have done. This year is turning out to be quite different, however. With three major wins for Atlanta parks occurring in the past few weeks, Park Pride is now fully focused on the opportunities that lie ahead. Let’s break each of these wins down in turn: 

  1.  Andre Dickens will be a Greenspace Champion for All of Atlanta

Last week, Councilmember Andre Dickens prevailed in his grassroots campaign to become the 61st Mayor of Atlanta. While addressing crime and affordable housing are at the top of his priority list, Dickens understands and appreciates the important role parks have played throughout the pandemic and how parks, greenspace, and Atlanta’s tree canopy are foundational for a strong and resilient city. “We know the power of greenspace,” Dickens said in recorded remarks provided to Park Pride during the campaign. “It not only improves the physical and mental health of our residents, but it improves the necessary gathering space for our community; it brings people together and makes them healthier. We know the benefits, we just have to choose to make it a priority at City Hall, and that’s what I plan to do when I’m Mayor.” 

Within his remarks (which can be viewed in their entirety on Park Pride’s website), Mayor Elect Dickens acknowledges greenspace as vital urban infrastructure. He emphasizes his belief that it is not enough to simply have a park within ½ mile of all residents, but that it must be a quality park. He is also committed to ensuring equitable investment across the park system: “As Mayor, I want to use the weight of the office to fully fund our parks and demand a more equitable allocation of our funds for park maintenance… That is going to require us to think differently about what an equitable distribution of money looks like.” 

I am optimistic about the future of Atlanta’s park system under a Dickens administration, and Park Pride looks forward to working with him to make quality parks within every neighborhood a reality.

2. Adoption of Activate ATL, the Comprehensive Plan for Atlanta’s Parks and Recreation

As Atlantans cast their ballots for a new Mayor in last week’s runoff, Atlanta City Council’s Community Development / Human Resources Committee was simultaneously voting to adopt Activate ATL: Recreation and Parks for All, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s comprehensive plan that will guide the growth and development of the parks and rec system over the next ten years. Among the many priorities that have come out of this plan, below are recommendation highlights that Park Pride is particularly encouraged by: 

  • Improve the condition of our existing facilities and prioritize locations, based on identified needs.
  • Foster excellence in daily maintenance of parks and recreation facilities through investments in human capital, training, and resources.
  • Invest in natural areas in parks for the dual purpose of preserving and protecting Atlanta’s abundant tree canopy and wildlife habitat, while encouraging visitation for human respite and refuge.
  • Foster a system-wide, sustainable trail network that guides user access to parks and enables connections across the city.
  • Acquire park land strategically through property donations, purchases, public/ private partnerships, or similar means to ensure parks are available and accessible throughout the city—with the goal of providing a park within a 10-minute walk of the population now and in the future.

These recommendations provide just a snapshot of the full list and the accompanying implementation plan. If approved by the full Council, it will be the first comprehensive plan for parks and recreation that the City has adopted in more than a decade (since 2009’s Project Greenspace under Mayor Shirley Franklin). Park Pride looks forward to working side-by-side with the new administration to advance this ambitious plan for parks. 

3. $2M Secured from City of Atlanta for Capital Park Improvements

In October, Atlanta City Council unanimously approved legislation introduced by Councilmember Matt Westmoreland to commit $2 million to Park Pride’s Grant Program for capital improvements and upgrades to greenspaces in underserved neighborhoods. This unprecedented contribution of public dollars will be matched in equal measure with support from Park Pride’s philanthropic partners.  

As a result of increased public and private investment, a greater number of community-led projects in Community Development Impact Areas (neighborhoods where more than half of the population is at or below 80% of the Atlanta–area median income) will come to fruition in the neighborhoods that need them most.  Everyone, regardless of zip code, deserves to enjoy a great greenspace and natural area close to home. Over the coming year, Park Pride will work with our partners—City, nonprofit, philanthropic, and community—to ensure these dollars are leveraged to the greatest extent in neighborhoods throughout the city.

Three cheers for these three significant wins for parks! We appreciate those who contributed to these efforts and give thanks to all the local leaders who have stood side-by-side with Park Pride through the years advocating for a stronger park system. Our voices are being heard. These events offer hope and promise for more and better parks as we look to 2022 and beyond, and it would not be possible without each of you and your belief and commitment to the power of parks. See you in 2022! 

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