Growing with Greenspace
by Michael Halicki, Executive Director, Park Pride
This column by Michael Halicki originally appeared in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Magazine, and is republished by permission of Georgia State University. Michael is a graduate of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies (M.P.A. ’09).
Atlanta is a greenspace paradox. On the one hand, Atlanta is a city of lush greenery where our communities and neighborhoods are nestled within a rich urban forest that is our city’s defining ecological feature. On the other hand, the City of Atlanta lacks publicly accessible parks.
While two thirds of Atlantans live within a ten-minute walk of a park or publicly accessible greenspace, one third do not.
Another defining feature of our city is its booming population growth. The development associated with that growth creates tensions as trees are felled daily under the banner of progress and opportunities to create new parks take a back seat to market forces.
However, the City of Atlanta is attempting to bring these tensions into balance through an ambitious long-range planning effort led by Tim Keane, Commissioner of Planning and Community Development, and Ryan Gravel, the visionary behind the Atlanta BeltLine.
Atlanta City Design, as the plan is known, prepares for a potential doubling of the city’s population over the next 25 years. It also calls for an urban ecology framework that begins with an inventory of the city’s natural assets and ends with a specific set of policy actions designed to increase access to nature and to protect nature as the city grows and develops.
Park Pride, a locally-based nonprofit that works to engage communities to activate the power of parks, is a stakeholder in the Atlanta City Design process. Park Pride challenges city leaders to think big about the role that parks, trails and greenspaces could play in the future of Atlanta.
We are aided by partners like Trees Atlanta, which bring expertise about Atlanta’s tree canopy, and The Conservation Fund that helps to acquire parkland on behalf of the City of Atlanta’s parks department.
As city leaders plan for a doubling of population over the next 25 years, Park Pride has encouraged a similar goal be set to double the amount of parkland that is accessible to city residents.
It is worth noting that a doubling of population would still leave Atlanta less dense many other peer cities, thus giving us a rare opportunity to maintain our tree canopy and increase our access to parks even as we grow.
Keane recently pointed out that we’re in a position to use nature as a parameter around which we design things. How to do that? One way is through increasing population density in areas of the city that already have infrastructure to support it, ensuring access to transit, sidewalks and parks already in existence. Another way is to rely more heavily on our emerging trail network—including the Atlanta BeltLine and PATH—to connect people to people, the city and nature. Atlanta stands to be the most trail connected city in the United States by 2025 should all the proposed trail projects come to fruition, according to the PATH Foundation.
Atlanta has the opportunity to serve as a model for other cities that have historically been victims to sprawl. We’re in a position where embracing both of our defining features—growth and greenspace—could result in a scenario, if done right, of having our forest and having more people live in it, too: of growing and urbanizing, while at the same time protecting, preserving and even expanding the ecology of our city.