Great Cities have Great Parks
By Michael Halicki, Executive Director, Park Pride
Let’s begin with a statement that appears on its surface to be simple and straightforward: Great cities have great parks. Think for a moment about that statement and what it means. Now, picture a great park in Atlanta. What comes to mind?
For me, I think of Piedmont Park with Lake Clara Meer in the foreground and the city skyline in the background. I also imagine the future Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry with its proposed “grand overlook” that will provide fantastic views of the water-filled quarry.
Now, let me be clear. I love Piedmont Park and I’m sure I’ll love the Westside Park, too. These “destination” parks help define our city.
However, these destination parks aren’t local for most Atlanta residents. Which is why for Park Pride, “great cities have great parks” requires having both great destination as well as great local parks—parks that are just down the street in your neighborhood that you might visit every day.
Quality, local parks aren’t just a “nice to have.” Local parks really matter, and everyone deserves to have a great park within walking distance. Why? Because great parks provide:
Connections to Nature: There is a growing body of research that suggests that humans have a hardwired need for nature and that our health suffers when we don’t get enough of it. Researcher Dr. Ming Kuo draws a comparison between the shortened life span of animals confined to cages in zoos with human beings who lack basic access to nature. Ecologist E.O. Wilson once said: “Organisms, when housed in unfit habitats, undergo social, psychological and physical breakdown.” An urban environment that lacks appropriate access to nature is proving to be an “unfit habitat” for humans. Through parks, our innate need for a connection to nature is met.
Places for Children to Play: Children need active play every day to thrive. Great parks provide an outlet for active minds to discover and learn, and for active bodies to run, strengthen, and grow. The United Nation’s Article 31 (adopted in 2013) recognizes places for children to play as a basic human right. Accessible parks where kids can play is a necessary component of every neighborhood.
Places for neighbors to get know one another: In community building, there is a concept of “the third place.” It isn’t home. It isn’t work. There is a growing body of research that suggests that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place in our increasingly disconnected world. For many neighborhoods, a park is the third place. Within this space, neighbors get to know each other, and kids meet new friends who live near-by. A “neighborhood” transforms into a “community” in a park. By contrast, residents in neighborhoods that lack third spaces are not as connected or unified, a state that leads to increased tensions and volatility as new and existing residents fail to come together. Great parks unify neighborhoods, creating stronger, more resilient cities.
Places to Grow: Community gardens in parks further enhance the power of parks to strengthen community. First and foremost, these gardens increase access to local, healthy food. However, they also create opportunities for intergenerational engagement, and bring additional eyes into the park, making it safer for other park users, including parents with strollers, children at playgrounds, for example. In Atlanta, there are 22 community gardens in parks (gardens that came about with the help of Park Pride’s advocacy efforts that championed legislation to allow for them).
Great cities have great parks. Again, this appears to be a simple and straightforward statement. Yet, upon reflection, the statement is as complex as the patchwork quilt of neighborhoods that make up the City of Atlanta. A patchwork of neighborhoods that all deserve great destination and local parks. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are many Atlanta residents who do not have a local park (“great” or otherwise) to which they have easy access daily. Right now, amid an explosion of population growth and land development, Atlanta stands on the precipice of greatness, a greatness that can only be fully realized by investing in the creation and enhancement local and destination parks.
Note: Park Pride is a local partner to The Trust for Public Land, National Recreation and Park Association and the Urban Land Institute in the 10 Minute Walk Campaign. The 10 Minute Walk Campaign is a nationwide movement to ensure there’s a great park within a 10 Minute Walk of every person, in every neighborhood, in every city across America.