Building Relationships to Build Parks
Ayanna Williams, Park Pride’s Director of Community Building
Elected officials are powerful allies for park improvement projects. Strong rapport with your elected officials, when leveraged in conjunction with that built with the Department of Parks & Recreation, can play a major role in helping park advocates achieve their goals for park improvements. Effective working relationships, however, do not form overnight; the most successful Friends of the Park groups, conservancies, and community associations contribute significant time and effort to engage their elected officials to the benefit of the greenspace that they represent.
In early January, a new Mayor of Atlanta, as well as seven new City of Atlanta Council members and a new council president, were sworn into office. Though there is never a bad time to build or strengthen your relationship with city council members (or county commissioners for those of you in DeKalb County), right now is the perfect time to engage with your elected officials as they are establishing plans and priorities for the current term.
Below are steps you can take today to begin building relationships with elected officials to benefit your park:
- Plan a tour of the park that highlights community investments and invite your elected official for a walk! Share the work your group has done including community volunteer days, play days or meet ups, and any citizen-driven park improvements that you’ve accomplished to date.
- Learn about your elected official’s focus. How can you use their focus to benefit the park? Align your park priorities and requests accordingly: present your park project as a solution to a shared concern for public safety, building a vibrant community, or engaging youth in positive activity, for example.
- Invite your elected official to the Parks and Greenspace Conference on March 26 as an opportunity to learn about creative solutions for parks.
- Demonstrate passion with politeness! Discuss community priorities with elected officials as opposed to laying out a list of demands, and make sure to thank them for their support publicly at park events, in social media, and in writing with a card or email.
Remember, the ultimate goal is to build a working relationship that will bring resources to your park projects and benefit the community!
Also note that the suggestions above are applicable beyond solely working with elected officials; they are appropriate when building relationships with appointed government officials, employees of the Department of Parks and Recreation, people / organizations you’re approaching to fund your park project, your neighbors from whom you’re seeking support or donations, and more!
Each month, I invite community members, park advocates, members of the City of Atlanta Parks Department, and other stakeholders in parks to join me at Park Pride’s Park Meetings to connect, discuss strategies, and build relationships that support park improvements (see our events calendar for future dates and locations). Our next meeting is Thursday, February 8th from 7:30 – 9 a.m. at the South Fork Conservancy’s office (1788 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307). I hope to see you there to share ideas and network around strengthening our park improvement efforts!
Featured photo: Executive Director, Michael Halicki, walks through Adams Park with Amy Phuong, City of Atlanta Commissioner of Parks & Recreation, and Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms (Councilmember Bottoms at the time of this photo).