The Future of Atlanta is Green
Big Picture Take-Aways from the Mayoral Candidate Forum on Greenspace
Michael Halicki, Executive Director of Park Pride
On July 13, Park Pride and our partners including Trees Atlanta, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, Piedmont Park Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, Georgia Conservancy, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and the Greening Youth Foundation hosted the Mayoral Candidate Forum on Greenspace. The event was initially planned to take place at The Carter Center but was moved to Georgia State to accommodate a surge of registrants eager to hear the candidates’ views on greenspace. Twenty-four hours later, Georgia State’s larger auditorium was maxed out as well.
Maria Saporta moderated the forum and Maggie Lee provided an excellent recap on the Saporta Report. A video of the forum has generated nearly 4,000 views thus far. Candidates have been asked and most have provided written responses to a series of greenspace policy questions that are posted on the Park Pride and Trees Atlanta websites.
While many commitments were made at the forum, I left with five, big picture take-aways:
The greenspace community is large, passionate, and most importantly, highly engaged.
There are so many people that value our parks, trees, trails and watersheds. This is no surprise as these things touch all of our lives and play a role in significantly improving our quality of life. But to see nearly 400 advocates in a room together supporting greenspace, and to know that even more tuned in from home and watched the video has made me more fully appreciate the strength of the parks and greenspace movement. Showing up makes a difference, and this passionate community of greenspace enthusiasts shows up time after time.
- Our unified voice for greenspace has been heard.
Across the board, our mayoral candidates recognize the need for more parks, increased funding for park maintenance and improvements to existing parks, and are interested in exploring options for an additional dedicated funding stream. While many ideas for the source of that funding differ, the important thing is that there is acknowledgement of the need and an openness to discussion. They are also receptive to creative problem solving that ensures Atlanta’s favorite festivals continue to thrive and provide a cultural amenity, while at the same time, reduces the negative impact on parks and neighborhoods. Park Pride is committed to continuing our engagement with these candidates, the Department of Parks & Recreation and the Atlanta City Council to ensure that these conversations are carried forward as we move beyond the election to the next administration.
- Atlanta City Design is likely our way forward.
Under the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed, the City of Atlanta embarked on an epic planning effort called Atlanta City Design. When asked at the forum whether the mayoral candidates would continue the Atlanta City Design project, the responses varied from “Yes” to “Absolutely.” This is good news as Atlanta City Design offers a way to engage in the future of our city that goes beyond the casting of your ballot this November. Get involved in Atlanta City Design and don’t wait to do it! Make your voice for greenspace heard as the Urban Ecology Framework gets underway! The studio’s current location is 2311 Cascade Rd SW, Atlanta, GA 30311. Drop by or visit the Atlanta City Studio Facebook page for information about specific events.
- Equity matters.
Equity is perhaps the defining issue of the coming election, and its intersection with parks, trees, trails and watersheds is an important dimension of this larger issue that cannot be overstated. It will be up to us all—the next mayor, Atlanta City Council, the greenspace community, and us as individuals—to scrutinize all projects to ensure a future that is green, affordable and inclusive.
- The future of Atlanta is green.
All Mayoral candidates understand the significance of our iconic tree canopy and are in favor of strengthening protections for trees. Additionally, each and every candidate supports the purchase of more property for greenspace and public parks. As we grow in population, we need to protect Atlanta’s forests and greenspace.
Of course, none of the statements put forth at the forum are foregone conclusions. The purchase of more greenspace and the protection of the canopy will require much work, and now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Atlanta’s future will be green only with the leadership of our elected officials and our continued advocacy.
The momentum gained from the Mayoral Candidate Forum on Greenspace is significant, and we cannot afford to let it slow. I encourage you to continue to take action that raises awareness for greenspace whenever possible, like through the following opportunities:
- Attend a Park Pride Park Meeting (the next meeting is on Thursday, August 10th at 7:30 a.m. at Standing Peachtree Park).
- Sign the Trees Atlanta Canopy Pledge or attend the Atlanta Canopy Conference.
- Protect the Chattahoochee – ask your Senators to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
- Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s South River Neighborhood Network and how you can get involved in watershed greening projects in Atlanta.
- Attend an Our Future Atlanta event to keep up to speed on the 2017 City of Atlanta Mayoral elections and the issues that matter.
- Learn about the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, which, if passed by the State, would annually generate millions of dollars for land conservation by dedicating a portion of the existing sales tax on outdoor recreation equipment.