Expanding Parkland and Parking Not Always Easy
More than a decade ago, Atlanta was embroiled in a debate about a proposed parking deck in Piedmont Park. Today, we hear the echoes of that controversy in another popular regional park – Grant Park. A proposed parking deck is eliciting visceral reactions to the thought of cutting down trees to build a parking deck and making changes to a beloved community asset. The opposition has arisen despite the fact that the City, Grant Park Neighborhood Association, ZooAtlanta and the Grant Park Conservancy spent two years developing the proposed Grant Park Gateway Project.
Atlanta is not alone in its struggle to accommodate parking at parks, and it is in particularly good company with the challenge of a park that contains the city’s zoo (well more than half of the most visited zoos in America reside in a city park). The issues are similar from city to city – and with various parks within Atlanta. We want more people to more easily access parks. Ideally, we wouldn’t need parking because residents would be able to walk to their neighborhood park or take transit to regional, destination parks. The reality is that taking a car too-often is the only viable option.
So how do we balance demand for increased access to parks and greenspace with the understandable resistance to change – including removing and replanting trees?
Expanding greenspace and increasing access to parks has been an Atlanta priority at least since 2001. That was the year that a Trust for Public Land and Urban Land Institute study found that Atlanta had the least parkland among America’s 25 largest cities. In response, TPL helped launch a park advocacy campaign whose first two goals were (1) ensure that every Atlanta child grows up within a 10 minute walk of a park, trail or natural area; and (2) triple the park acres per resident to meet the national average. A third goal was to increase Atlanta’s tree canopy.
The City has made tremendous progress toward these goals, adding nearly 2,000 acres of parkland and increasing the percent of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park from less than 40 to 66. The City has adopted one of our nation’s strongest tree ordinances. As part of this effort, The Trust for Public Land created the vision of using the Atlanta BeltLine to create 1400 acres of new parks and greenspace, including the Bellwood Quarry Park. We also acquired all of the land needed to create Historic Fourth Ward Park, Boulevard Crossing Park and other BeltLine greenspaces. These efforts have proven incredibly popular.
But not every new park project has been embraced. We have seen opposition to the Mason Mill Park Trail, to a proposed soft-surface trail near Herbert Taylor Park, and the BeltLine extension trail in Tanyard Creek Park. People love their greenspace, so they tend to react negatively to the idea of cutting down trees or making significant changes to parks – even when doing so increases access, expands usable greenspace and requires the planting of more (though smaller) trees.
Such was the case with the proposed parking deck in Piedmont Park. The plan was to remove six acres of surface parking and build an 800-space parking deck on an acre of land near the Atlanta Botanical Garden. By removing surface parking, the lot would increase the amount of greenspace. By increasing parking, the deck would increase access to Atlanta’s most popular park. But building the deck would require the removal of more than 100 trees. The project spawned months of protest, lawsuits and counter lawsuits before the deck eventually was built. Today, the parking deck serves both botanical garden and park. A lawn and bocce ball court occupy an area once dedicated to surface parking.
A similar dynamic is playing out in Grant Park. The Grant Park Gateway Project proposes replacing an eight-acre, 500-space surface parking lot with a 1,000-space parking deck featuring a green roof with a three-acre lawn. To compensate for the loss of 131 trees (90 of which are in the current parking lot), the City would plant more than 400 new trees. In the end, the project would create nearly seven acres of new greenspace (larger than many Atlanta parks) and improve access to Grant Park. But the park would change, and 131 trees would be lost.
Each proposal to expand access and increase greenspace is unique. Some are relatively easy decisions; some are hard. And Grant Park won’t be the last time we must make a decision involving a parking deck. There have been talks of decks at Chastain Park and to serve Bitsy Grant Tennis Center and Bobby Jones Golf Course.
Given the strong emotions involved, open communication is essential, as is the willingness of all parties to collaborate on a design that minimizes the impact of any parking deck upon a beloved park. Wanting to get surface parking lots out of parks is easy. Figuring out how best to do it can be hard.
Georgia State Director
The Trust for Public Land