A member of the Piedmont Park Conservancy operations team landscaping along the edge of Lake Clara Meer, with the Midtown skyline in view behind him. Photo credit: Piedmont Park Conservancy

By Ellie Hensley, Midtown Alliance Editor and Producer

After a long year of isolation and social distancing, pandemic recovery is just beginning to pick up some momentum. With the combination of spring weather and the steadily increasing availability of vaccines, it’s feeling more and more like we could be entering the late stages of this public health crisis. Although we still must remain vigilant for the duration in our efforts to stop the spread of the virus, we’re seeing local nonprofit organizations make good use of this transitional time to help Midtown and the rest of the city of Atlanta regain full strength. We’ve explored the idea in this space about “second responders” leading our City toward recovery. Here are a couple of stellar examples that have captured our optimism for Atlanta’s present and future.

MARTA Army is an independent grassroots action group that works to improve the transit ridership experience for metro Atlantans. The group’s largest initiative in 2020 was Operation Bus Stop Census, an effort it launched on Transit Equity Day. Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks’ February 4 birthday has been established as a day for people across the United States to demand action in making public transit accessible and affordable. 

Throughout the year, MARTA Army asked volunteers to fill out surveys about the current state of bus stops, including whether they had adequate amenities, painted crosswalks, or were ADA accessible. In spite of having to pivot its initiative to a mostly digital format due to COVID-19, MARTA Army was able to survey 2,500 bus stops and will share its results with MARTA to help inform its decisions about where services need to be improved. The findings could come at a key time for MARTA, as the system looks to resume its full bus route service by April 24 after paring its bus routes down over the past year due to the pandemic.

Another non-profit supporting Atlanta’s post-pandemic recovery is the Piedmont Park Conservancy. In 2020, the park welcomed 4.5 million visitors, down slightly from the 6 million it welcomed the year before. Last year’s guest count didn’t include the typical music festivals or other large gatherings (though it did include some peaceful protests). These small groups or solo visitors came seeking respite, fresh air and wide open spaces during a time when they were mostly confined to their homes.

The Piedmont Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that has managed the park for three decades, knew it was especially important to keep the park well maintained over the past year. Its operations team has increased its trash pick-up, and paid extra care to restroom sanitation and disinfection efforts. When the guest counts start trending upward to coincide with spring temperatures, the conservancy’s staff will be ready. 

With mass vaccination sites opening in Georgia and the federal directive that all Americans become eligible to receive the vaccine starting May 1, there are lots of reasons for optimism. But the vaccine does not mean an instant return to normal — so for now, make a plan for you and your loved ones to get vaccinated, keep wearing a mask and keep six feet apart to help finish the fight against the pandemic. 

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