The Park Pioneers Advancing Atlanta Greenspaces

By April 20, 2017 No Comments

Spring time and the strollin’s easy; in your favorite park of course! You may think Atlanta’s most iconic green behemoth is Piedmont Park but our city is filled with plenty of lush spaces to wander. Thanks to community grit and the guidance of nature nurturers like Park Pride, our greenspaces have never looked better. And while our city has much to celebrate (y’all know what some of these parks looked like in the 80s, right?), Atlanta is still ranked in the bottom half of The Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore.

The good news? Park Pride, the City of Atlanta, and other local environmental organizations are dedicated to giving every Atlantan a park within a ten-minute walk. In honor of Earth Day, we caught up with Rachel Whyte, marketing & communications manager at Park Pride, to hear their bottom-up community approach, the pints and park proceeds you can raise this May, and why now more than ever younger generations should advocate for the greener good.

Park Pride has been around for 28 years. Can you talk about your main initiatives?

Park Pride was founded in 1989 and our mission is to engage communities to activate the power of parks. We do that through a number of different programs, starting with the Friends of the Park Program. A Friends of the Park group is a group of neighborhood residents that, like us, believe that parks have the potential to become the heart of a community. So they’ll come together to activate their park through events, to raise money for different improvements, and to create “community” around that neighborhood greenspace. Parks are a great place to meet your neighbors and make friends; the formation of a Friends of the Park group is the first step in building a stronger community through a great park.

Park Pride also has additional programs to get involved in:

  • Volunteer Program: Almost 20,000 hours of volunteering in parks in 2016.
  • Park Visioning Program: Resident landscape architect works with the community to create a bottom-up master park plan that communities use as a tool to fundraise and create the park the neighborhood wants and needs.
  • Grants Program: Granting dollars – to date, Park Pride has awarded over $4.8 million dollars to Friends groups to revitalize their parks.
  • Community Gardening Program: Park Pride helped advocate for the legislation to be passed allowing community gardens to be created in City of Atlanta parks. There are now 22 community gardens in parks across the city.
  • Fiscal Partners Program: Supports Friends groups as they raise money for their parks.
  • Adopt-the-Atlanta BeltLine Program: Works with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership to organize volunteer opportunities along the Atlanta BeltLine.

Our other big focus is park advocacy. We provide leadership and resources to help groups advocate for their park within their communities and on behalf of their communities to city officials. Ultimately, we hope our efforts will achieve a larger budget for park operations and maintenance, which will translate into great parks for us all to enjoy.

Right now we’re also looking ahead to the next mayoral election to ensure that the next administration places a priority on parks. We hosted a roundtable recently where we brought together many candidates to hear their perspectives on parks, and we’re working with Trees Atlanta, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership and several other organizations to organize a Mayoral Candidate Forum on July 13th at the Carter Center. If you’re interested in parks and greenspace and what our next mayor has to say about them, you should come!

It seems like Park Pride is a very community focused, which can often be very different for organizations with as much tenure. Can you talk through that a little bit?

Park Pride is a bottom-up, capacity-building organization focused on making positive changes in communities through neighborhood parks. The passion for making change a reality really starts within the community itself. Once neighbors realize they have a desire to make a difference in their neighborhood, Park Pride is there to help them make that happen. It’s a great collaboration between the neighborhoods around the city and the services that Park Pride offers.

It’s great too because Park Pride acts as the liaison between communities and city government. Communities bring their passion and Park Pride takes our knowledge and experience from the last 28 years and our close partnership with the City of Atlanta, to help advocate for changes to be implemented.

Why is it important for individuals to be active in helping parks and greenspace in their communities… especially younger generations… *cough* Millennials *cough*?

The first thing to recognize is how important a role parks play in our everyday life. A lot of people tend to think that parks are a luxury item but they’re really not. They’re one of the foundations of a great city. There have been so many studies about parks improving mental and physical health. Aside from those benefits, it also builds community.

One-third of Atlantans do not live within walking distance of a park. One of the stated goals of the current administration has been to bring all Atlantans within a ten-minute walking distance of a park. That’s a goal Park Pride has as well. We want to activate all communities to make sure they’re aware of the benefits of parks, why they should care and advocate for more of them, and help make steps to bring a park, greenspace, or trail into their neighborhood (if they don’t have one) or improve those they have.

We are in a really unique place in terms of population growth of Atlanta right now where they’re projecting a doubling or tripling of the population in the city over the next 20-30 years. The City of Atlanta’s Planning and Community Development Department is working on the Atlanta City Design to come up with a plan for how we accommodate all these people when they come in. We should be conscious of preserving and maintaining parks, but particularly in building parks where there are none or where density will be increasing. Doing that will help maintain the quality of life for everyone as the city continues to grow.

For Millennials especially, this is a turning point where we have an opportunity to impact what our city is going to look like in the next 10, 20, and 30 years and to help guide the direction we want Atlanta to go in. This is where we’ll be raising our families, so it’s definitely the perfect time to start getting involved.

You mentioned one-third of Atlantans aren’t within walking distance of a park. That’s significant! Can you talk about how people can use their voice for their own neighborhoods or others that desperately need this type of greenspace?

There are so many ways!

First off, the easiest way to get involved is to see if your local park has a Friends of the Park group and plug into it. Park Pride also has a monthly park meeting on the second Thursday of each month. It starts at 7:30 am but at that meeting we go to different parks and meet with community members, park advocates, and city officials, to talk about the state of parks and any issues coming up. It’s a great way to hear what’s going on, network with other people and groups and learn how they are dealing with challenges and about ways to get involved.

We have also know that showing up at City Hall works really well – they notice us when we show up in green shirts and it send the visible message that residents of the city care about parks and greenspaces. I definitely encourage folks to get on our newsletter list so they know when we are going to City Hall and they can join us. We have the power to make a difference in our city and it starts with showing up. In fact, we’ll be at City of Atlanta Council Chambers on Wednesday, May 3rd for the first hearing of the FY2018 budget for parks and recreation – that hearing starts at 1 PM. You can grab a green shirt and join us there!

The Atlanta City Design Process is also ongoing and there are a lot of opportunities to engage. This is a great way to voicing the importance you place on parks and trails. With the upcoming mayoral election, make sure the next administration has a focus on parks and greenspace and supports the goal of having every Atlantan within ten minutes of a park.

As I mentioned before, you should attend our upcoming Mayoral Forum at the Carter Center on July 13th where we’ll hear the candidates views on parks, trees, greenspace and our expanding trail network.

A very basic way to start is plugging into your neighborhood group as well as attending neighborhood meetings with the mindset of, “What can I be doing to better my park and greenspace?” Those are great meetings to hear what’s going on in your own community.

And maybe the most fun way of all is to come to Pints for Parks on May 2nd at Orpheus Brewing from 6-9 PM! If you like parks and beer, you’re going to love Pints for Parks, and this year the event will benefit our advocacy efforts. So you can raise a glass at the same time you’re raising our voice for parks! Registration is open online – I hope we see some Gather Good readers there.

Is there a success story that comes to mind of an area that desperately needed a park and what that impact was like for the community?

There’s actually a great story from the English Avenue neighborhood that Park Pride helped in partnership with The Conservation Fund, City of Atlanta, and others. Lindsay Street Park opened in 2015, but was the very first park in English Avenue. Stacy Funderburke from The Conservation Fund had gone over there with a few other folks involved on the project, and while they are prospecting the future park a kid comes by on a bicycle and asked what they were doing. Stacy says, “Well we are going to build a park here, there’s going to be a playground” and the kid replies “Really, when?” and was very excited because there was no park in the neighborhood. At the ribbon cutting, residents were really excited that there was a safe space for kids to play. Now you go over to the park and there’s a playground, a rain garden, and a path to walk around; it’s a great little park with a dedicated Friends of the Park group.

Ready to gift yourself Orpheus beer and give Atlanta better greenspaces? Make sure you snag your tickets to Pints for Parks May 2nd. Keep up with Atlanta’s environmental footprint by following Park Pride on Facebook  and Twitter.