Two parks, multiple benefits on schedule for westside next year

By Maggie Lee

The pair of parks set to open in English Avenue and Vine City next year will mean more than acres of places to play, exercise or relax. They’re also meant to bring benefits that won’t be obvious by looking.

Darryl Haddock spends a lot of time trying to explain what a “watershed” is, as environmental education director of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance.

He used a lesson he normally gives to young students on more than one hundred grown-ups Friday morning, asking his audience at a Transform Westside Summit each to cup their hands together.

cook park rendering

A rendering with a view of Cook Park looking toward the southwest with the stormwater feature on the left (Special: Trust for Public Land)

“Imagine there’s a cloud and it’s raining in your hands and all the nooks and crannies are filling with water. That’s a model of the creeks and streams that flow downstream into the center of your hand. Watersheds are the land that surrounds bodies of water,” he said.

In Atlanta, some of the places where water collects — the equivalent of the center of your hands — are in parts of English Avenue and Vine City. When it rains too hard, water, trash, dirt and other pollutants flow to those places from pavements and roofs higher up, sometimes causing flooding.

Two parks in the works there are supposed to help stop that flooding and pollution. Rodney Cook Sr. Park and Boone Park West will have all the normal park things: places to relax, play, picnic, walk, exercise. But they’ll also work as “green” infrastructure. Their ponds, gardens and soils will be designed to absorb floodwater, channeling it away from streets and homes.

“Green infrastructure can be beautiful,” said Andrew White, director of visioning at Park Pride, an Atlanta and DeKalb nonprofit that helps communities improve their parks.

For example, Adair Park and Vine City Park already have what are called rain gardens — the gardens look like flower beds, but they are contoured to collect water when it rains, slowly letting it drain into the groundwater. They also slow water that might otherwise rush down streets and stream banks, carrying dirt toward streams. The pond in Historic Fourth Ward Park also doubles as water-detaining green infrastructure.

“A great, high-quality park … doesn’t just improve the area that that park sits on or the surrounding neighbor grid, but it can tremendously affect the entire watershed,” said Jay Wozniak, director of urban parks for The Trust For Public Land’s Georgia office. The TPL is leading development of Cook Park.

The parks are critical for the greater health of the Proctor Creek watershed, Proctor Creek and eventually the Chatthoochee, Wozniak said.

Cook Park will cover 16 acres and several blocks on the south side of Joseph E. Boone Boulevard between Walnut and Elm streets.

Boone Park West will be about a quarter of that size. It will cover part of the block bounded by Boone and Joseph E. Lowery boulevards and Proctor and Oliver streets.

Both parks are set to be finished toward the end of next year.

The nonprofit Westside Future Fund sponsored the talk about both community and green infrastructure. The group aims to coordinate the efforts of the people and organizations that are working to revitalize four westside neighborhoods: English Avenue, Vine City, Ashview Heights and Atlanta University Center. WFF works in several areas, including keeping long-term residents in an area where many fear they’ll be priced out by newer, richer residents.

But one of WFF’s other “impact areas” is community health and wellness — something that parks help provide.

“We consider that … parks and green space are part of that pivotal foundation for revitalization of the westside,” said its executive director, John Ahmann.

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