Congratulations, Atlanta! We Made it to the Top 50 Cities for Parks
(Above) First proposed by The Trust for Public Land in 2005, Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry is an example of the long-term investments continuing to improve Atlanta’s park system.
By George Dusenbury, Executive Director, The Trust for Public Land in Georgia
For the first time in the 18 years that The Trust for Public Land has assessed parks and greenspaces in major cities in the United States, Atlanta has scored in the top 50 percent, ranking 43rd out of 100 cities in the 2018 ParkScore® Index. As our city clamors to attract competitive jobs, it is clear that today’s workforce expects access to parks and recreational areas. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Pulte Homes, and NCR Corporation are choosing Atlanta, and if we want to continue to attract businesses we must offer a high quality of life to their prospective talent–and that means abundant parks with varied amenities.
So what will it take for us to break into the top 25 in the next 10 years?
ParkScore® is an important measurement that the Trust for Public Land is proud to share each year to support cities and organizations around the country in their efforts to advance parks and recreational areas. It serves as a benchmark that can lead to open, honest conversations about how to improve and expand public spaces and to begin to identify the resources needed to make them happen.
In Atlanta, that conversation started in 2001 when the city ranked last for the percentage of public land dedicated to parks. That inaugural report inspired a host of organizations to form the Parks Atlanta Rescue Coalition (PARC) to advocate for parks during the 2001 Mayoral race – creating a 9-point plan for getting Atlanta off the bottom and up to the top. Congressman John Lewis, every Mayoral candidate and the vast majority of City Council candidates signed on, and once elected, Mayor Shirley Franklin made parks a top priority with investments that continue to bear fruit today. Park Pride became a powerful advocacy organization, building a diverse network of park support groups that span our city. Atlanta’s park movement was born.
Atlanta has made tremendous strides improving its parks over the past two decades, particularly by increasing the number of residents who have easy access to a park from less than half to 66 percent. The Trust for Public Land believes that access – ensuring that every person lives within a 10-minute walk of a high-quality park – is the most important statistical measure for any park system. That is because research has shown:
- People who live near parks know more of their neighbors, have more friends and are happier with where they live.
- Access to parks increases physical activity, while time spent in nature reduces blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Exposure to parks decreases stress, lowers anxiety and improves cognitive ability.
- Parks combat air pollution, reduce flooding, improve water quality and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.
- Proximity to parks is associated with increased home value, and access to ample parks and recreational areas offer a more competitive environment for attracting business.
- Parks beget parks – successful development and redevelopment of parks attract more investment and support from private entities.
What can we do to build on the momentum to create and expand parks? There are tremendous opportunities for the City to work collaboratively and creatively with partners like the Atlanta Housing Authority, Atlanta Public Schools and MARTA to leverage ParkScore® information in tangible, meaningful ways to expand access and incorporate parks into smart, sustainable development.
We are well on our way. The Atlanta BeltLine Southwest Connector Trail, along with Cook Park, Boone Park West and the Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry will all be open in the coming months and years. Now we need to engage more people in caring for our public spaces and provide higher-quality parks.
If you’d like to know more, join me at the Park Pride Roundtable on June 21 at 7 a.m. at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and meet Charlie McCabe, Director for the Center for City Park Excellence for The Trust for Public Land. He will present insights into ParkScore® and discuss how non-traditional partnerships are helping create happier, healthier cities. In the meantime, thank you to the countless advocates who have helped Atlanta rise in the ranks and expand our recreational footprint.
ParkScore® provides in-depth data to guide local park improvement efforts. Mapping technology identifies which neighborhoods and demographics are underserved by parks and how many people are able to reach a park within a 10-minute walk. Cities can earn a maximum ParkScore® of 100. See a more detailed analysis of Atlanta’s parks and check out other cities at parkscore.tpl.org.
The Trust for Public Land is a national organization that creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, the organization has completed more than 5,000 park and conservation projects across the country, conserving more than three million acres of land.
George Dusenbury has served as Georgia State Director for The Trust for Public Land since 2016. Previously, he led Park Pride and served as commissioner of the City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation Department.