The Symbols of Our City

Michael Halicki, Executive Director of Park Pride

“our greatest parks often become the very symbols of their cities,
the touchstones of memory and experience for residents and tourists alike.”

 Peter Harnik, the recently retired Director of the Center for City Park Excellence for
The Trust for Public Land

Historic Fourth Ward Park photo credit: Van Hall

Historic Fourth Ward Park photo credit: Van Hall

Think, for a moment, of Atlanta without Piedmont Park. Try to imagine that there is no Grant Park or Oakland Cemetery, or Woodruff Park in Downtown. Think of the Atlanta BeltLine without Historic Fourth Ward Park. The truth is that you can’t. These parks are so intertwined into the fabric of our city that they help to define our city. Without our parks, Atlanta would not be the city it is today.  

Peter Harnik, quoted above, talks about the importance of parks in cities like Atlanta in glowing terms.  While some see city parks as lesser creations to our national or state parks, Harnik makes the case that city parks are, in some ways, more important than their national or state counterparts. In addressing the National Recreation and Parks Association earlier this year, he made this point quite persuasively:

National parks may feature the greatest landscapes and stories of the nation, but city parks are where we spend most of our greenspace time: toddling as babies, competing as children, hanging out as teens, courting, bringing families, taking visitors – and sitting on benches when exhausted. We go to them, walk through them, look at them, dream of them.  

Whether passively or actively, for those of us who live in cities, parks are a part of our everyday lives. They directly impact our quality of life, our memories, our experiences, and for that reason, parks should be at the top of our priority lists.

In order for parks to be funded at the level that they should be, the broader range of benefits and services parks provide need to be better understood. Further, when you consider the complex environmental, economic and social challenges facing our city today, it is, in fact, vital to understand parks’ benefits and how they address those issues.

Woodruff Park

Woodruff Park

It must be understood that parks are about more than just parks. They are more than islands unto themselves. They have the potential to address the limits of our overtaxed sewer system, providing capacity relief through green infrastructure that absorbs, retains and filters the deluge of rain that occurs even in times of persistent drought. They provide opportunities for environmental education, youth development and job training, in addition to providing places for play and physical exercise. They respond to social isolation and create opportunities for neighbors to get to know one another.

Through engagement with their parks, we’ve seen neighbors transform from a group of individual residents into what feels and acts more like a community.

Oakland Cemetery

Oakland Cemetery

And that makes parks relevant to all of us. In 2017, let’s not take our urban parks for granted. Let’s place more emphasis on caring for and holding up our greenspaces as the symbols of Atlanta that make it such a wonderful place to live, raise our families, and be members of our communities.  I believe in the transformational power of parks and I feel that parks aren’t just for the greener good, they are for the greater good.  Who is with me?

Resource: City Park Forum Briefing Papers, American Planning Association

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