Whether product of tactical urbanism or community effort, East Atlanta has a park

By David Pendered

Residents of East Atlanta who helped build a community gathering place found that they built something in addition to a park – a real sense of community.

Children play on Boulder Beast, a dragon made from clean scrap tires at East Atlanta Corner Project. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

Children play on Boulder Beast, a dragon made from clean scrap tires at East Atlanta Corner Project. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

To hear Joe Peery describe it, the community park came together in a fashion similar to the soup in the folktale about stone soup. This the fable in which a traveler stops in a village and offers to make soup from just water and a stone, and ends up making a hearty stew with morsels donated from many kitchens in the village.

“While we were out working, people would stop by and ask what we were doing,” Peery said. “’Making a community garden.’ They’d say, ‘I have stuff I could bring over,’ and they’d offer to help out.

“It was just a bunch of neighbors getting together to build a community garden,” said Peery, who moved to East Atlanta in 2009. “I got to know neighbors whom I’ve just waved to for the past couple of years.”

Volunteers showed up and worked on Saturdays in June and half of July. The effort was led and funded by Atlanta Councilmember Natalyn Archibong.

Atlanta Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong buys a cold treat from Dolphins Water Ice, a Kirkwood-based business, at the grand opening of the East Atlanta Corner Project. Archibong's mother, Gwendolyn Mosby, is  visible on the left side of the photo. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

Atlanta Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong buys a cold treat from Dolphins Water Ice, a Kirkwood-based business, at the grand opening of the East Atlanta Corner Project. Archibong’s mother, Gwendolyn Mosby, is visible on the left side of the photo. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

Together, they turned a formerly vacant lot, at the intersection of Flat Shoals Road and Bouldercrest Drive into a gathering area complete with a play area for children with tires collected in a recent tire drive in Atlanta City Council District 5; a community garden and picnic table made of wooden shipping pallets; and a gazebo they call the “Art Shed” because of its decorations. The shed collects rainwater on its roof and pipes water to a rain barrel for irrigating the garden.

On July 19, the volunteers threw a party to open the East Atlanta Corner Project. The event included a community yard sale, a mobile video game experience, and food trucks – including one from Dolphins Water Ice, a Kirkwood-based business specializing in Philly-style water ice.

In earlier eras, the notion of a community working together to improve itself was just that, a community effort. Now, the practice has been studied by scholars and given a name in a newly released book, Tactical Urbanism: Short Term Action for Long Term Change. The authors are Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia.

Andres Duany, the architect and urban planner who in Atlanta may be best known as an early advocate of the Atlanta Streetcar, gave his blessing to tactical urbanism in a forward to the book. Duany and Lydon coauthored The Smart Growth Manual, with Jeff Speck.

On Day 1 of the East Atlanta Corner Project, volunteers discuss the work required to turn a vacant lot into a community gathering place. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

On Day 1 of the East Atlanta Corner Project, volunteers discuss the work required to turn a vacant lot into a community gathering place. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

A book review published July 24 in Urban Land, the magazine of the Urban Land Institute, heralds tactical urbanism:

  • “This is a much-anticipated book, and the basic message is an important one: small-scale actions play an essential role in ensuring that cities—and especially the street frontage or building blocks within them—are responsive to genuine but unmet needs. Tactical maneuvers not only build social capital among residents, but also can help forge alliances with developers, government agencies, foundation sponsors, and other parties with a stake in local planning and development.”

Archibong toured a demonstration project on tactical urbanism display last summer. It caught her eye and she began looking for sites to host a project in District 5. The Atlanta Regional Commission sponsored the demonstration project on Auburn Avenue, along with a project on lifelong communities.

The picnic table at East Atlanta Corner project is made of pallets, the very definition of the low cost materials used in tactical urbanism projects. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

The picnic table and seating at East Atlanta Corner project is made of pallets, the very definition of the low cost materials used in tactical urbanism projects. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

A central theme of tactical urbanism is that residents improve their community through a series of small projects that are low in cost, high in impact, and completed much faster than if the government were involved. They aren’t expected to stand the test of time.

The East Atlanta Corner Project meets all these criteria. Consider just the shed.

Peery and Joel Slaton built the shed on land cleared by Michael Alatalo and the riding lawn mower he brought from home. Kyle Brooks painted the artwork on the shed. Rebecca Kern, Peery’s spouse, came up with the idea for using a rain barrel to irrigate the garden. Because there’s no faucet on the site, the first notion was to place several cat food plastic buckets at the park and have people take home an empty bucket and return with a pail full of water.

“We’ll see what happens in the long run,” Peery said.

“It will require maintenance and modification, because it was built hastily and not to last 10 years,” Peery said. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll find out what does. It could be that the community decides that if we put this much into it, we’d hate to see it go to ruin.”

Tomatoes and flowers were planted in the community garden of the East Atlanta Corner Project. The containers were made of shipping pallets, lined with garden bed lining, and filled with soil. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

Tomatoes and flowers were planted in the community garden of the East Atlanta Corner Project. The containers were made of shipping pallets, lined with garden bed lining, and filled with soil. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

Volunteers who built the East Atlanta Corner Project hosted the neighborhood for a grand opening on July 19. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

Volunteers who built the East Atlanta Corner Project hosted the neighborhood for a grand opening on July 19. Rain didn’t dampen spirits, and did fill the Art Shed’s rain barrel half full. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

East Atlanta, drill drain holes

Pavielle Dortch drills drain holes in tires that will become Boulder Beast, in an effort to prevent tires from becoming nesting places for mosquitoes. Credit: Sylvia McAfee

Boulder Beast, a tire dragon, is named after the adjacent Bouldercrest Drive. Credit: East Atlanta, drill drain holes

Boulder Beast, a tire dragon that’s the main attraction in the children’s play area, is named after the adjacent Bouldercrest Drive. Credit: East Atlanta, drill drain holes

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

6 replies
  1. Wormser Hats says:

    With due respect to the community’s valiant efforts and this misleading headline, East Atlanta already has a park.  It’s called Brownwood Park; a roughly 13 acre actively-used recreation area that neighbors and the City of Atlanta sometimes seem to forget about.  For all it’s imaginative splendor, the subject of this article is entirely privately-owned, commercially-zoned real estate that’s simply waiting for the right blend of economics and patrons to give it a renaissance. 

    This is a 21st century hipster version of Ackerman’s 1980’s Rio shopping-center, an award-winning,  festive, but still temporary development at the corner of North Ave. and Piedmont that was meant to make the most of a blighted piece of real estate until the market would drive something bigger, higher, and more profitable.  That day never quite came.  Rio was demolished and, today, we have a compact strip shopping center anchored by Publix.Report

    Reply
  2. Matt Garbett says:

    Wormser Hats Yes, there is a park in East Atlanta, and Brownwood Park is a wonderful park. It is not, however, walking distance for everyone, and there is nothing wrong with a smaller park that kids without the need of or access to a car can run over and play on.

    And ye, the land this is on is privately owned, commercially zoned real estate that’s simply waiting for the right blend of economics and patrons to give it a renaissance… that’s exactly why we built it. The goal has always been to activate this unused space in the hopes that such activation will lead to future, more permanent investment. It is intended to be temporary, and always was. But hopefully by bringing people to this corner we can make it safer, more active, inspire, and help kick start that development.

    The entire budget for this park? About $850… that’s not bad. If it survives as a park, it’s better than a vacant lot… and if it inspires development at this intersection, everyone is happy.Report

    Reply
  3. Concerned EAVer says:

    If the community could just shut down the illegal gambling going on in the convenience store next door it would be better for the families and children who spend time in this area. The political and community leaders know about this, but haven’t done anything to stop it.Report

    Reply

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