Why Clarkston, Georgia Has Made Parks a Priority, and What Other Communities Can Learn from this Small City
By Ted Terry, Mayor of Clarkston, Georgia and George Dusenbury, The Trust for Public Land’s Executive Director in Georgia
Tucked between Stone Mountain and Decatur lies the tiny community of Clarkston. Thirteen thousand people from more than 40 countries live inside this 1.4 square mile city, making it the country’s most ethnically diverse city and earning it the moniker “Ellis Island of the South.”
Visit Clarkston’s Milam Park on a nice day, and you will observe something truly special: people representing many different cultures will be gathered, their children playing together. Mothers and grandmothers connecting over shared experiences even though they speak different languages. Young people laughing.
Parks are essential to the physical, social, environmental and economic health of a community. That’s why we both believe everyone deserves to live within a 10-minute walk of a park. As cities across the country vie for residents and jobs by creating great spaces to live, work and play, we’re seeing more communities embrace the 10-Minute Walk Campaign led by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), The Trust for Public Land, and the Urban Land Institute (ULI).
Launched in 2017, the 10-Minute Walk Campaign is designed to help communities plan high-quality parks and greenspaces. The ambitious goal of easy park access will require major advances in park finance and construction, zoning changes to encourage park development, embedding this goal into city planning and other innovations. A bipartisan group of nearly 200 mayors from across the country have joined the Campaign.
We were inspired when former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signed on to the program–the first mayor in Georgia to do so. With her recent adoption of a substantial and important budget increase for parks and recreation—we are optimistic that Atlanta’s new Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will renew the City’s commitment to the Campaign and continue to help Atlanta grow access to high-quality parks.
Clarkston was an early adopter of the 10-Minute Walk Campaign, and the mayors of Decatur, Macon and Brookhaven are on board. This initiative has resulted in renewed commitment and expanded funding for places like Milam Park, which has seen a number of upgrades over the years to respond to the changing needs of the community. Installing pools, updating soccer fields and adding basketball hoops have helped this important space remain relevant and welcoming. That adaptive approach becomes more critical each year as the city’s diverse population grows.
Expanding parks and greenspace is a priority in Clarkston’s 20-year comprehensive plan. The 10-minute walk initiative provides the perfect platform to help advance this vision. The city was recently chosen to receive a $40,000 grant from NRPA to invest in technical assistance and thoughtful planning. Clarkston has more than $20 million in infrastructure projects planned for the next three years, including adding pocket parks, creating a nature sanctuary and more.
What can other communities learn from Clarkston? Shared natural spaces can equalize what sets us apart, and they can be the setting of where we become the people, the communities, the country we want to be. In honor of July’s National Parks and Recreation month, we would like to thank the mayors who have joined the 10-Minute Walk Campaign. We challenge the mayors of Savannah, Augusta, Athens and every city in Georgia to follow their lead and sign on to the campaign to demonstrate their commitment to providing safe, accessible spaces for all Georgians.
How does your city measure up? Look up your community on The Trust for Public Land’s ParkServe website, and get involved in creating and improving the greenspaces around you.
Ted Terry currently serves as the Mayor of Clarkston, Georgia, the most ethnically diverse square mile in America. Ted is the youngest Mayor in Clarkston’s 135-year history. With more than 17 years of experience in public service, Ted is leading Clarkston’s vision to become a more welcoming and compassionate community.
George Dusenbury, The Trust for Public Land’s Executive Director in Georgia