When the Kids Are Away, Let the Public Play
George Dusenbury, State Director for The Trust for Public Land in Georgia
Rachel Sprecher, Executive Director in the Office of Partnerships and Development, Atlanta Public Schools
Parks strengthen communities and improve public health while cleaning the water we need and the air we breathe. But in cities like Atlanta, with a dense urban core and high property values, space for new parks can be hard to come by. That’s why The Trust for Public Land, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and other partners are launching Atlanta Community Schoolyards, an unprecedented collaborative pilot project to invest in creatively repurposing schoolyards for neighborhood use during non-school hours—because public land is too rare and too valuable to serve only one use.
The leadership of APS, including Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen, has embraced the Atlanta Community Schoolyards program. We all recognize the potential for the program to strengthen the ties that bind schools and surrounding neighborhoods. Investing in schoolyards will not only better serve schoolchildren but will also offer nearby residents a place to exercise, relax and connect with neighbors.
The Trust for Public Land understands the importance of those connections, and that’s why we are steadfastly working to ensure every urban American can walk to a great park within 10 minutes of home. Partnering with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the National Recreation and Park Association, hundreds of mayors including Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta have signed on to support our 10-Minute Walk campaign.
Reimagining community schoolyards is one proven strategy designed to help cities reach that 10-minute walk goal. The Trust for Public Land has worked in dozens of cities to transform hundreds of schoolyards and make them available to the general public during non-school hours. Park Pride and ULI-Atlanta are partners in the effort to bring this strategy to Atlanta.
GIS data was used to identify schools in the city’s most park-poor communities. Superintendent Carstarphen invited those schools to participate, and 10 enthusiastically signed on as pilot sites for the Atlanta Community Schoolyards program. Over the next three years, schoolchildren and residents from the surrounding communities will design and implement improvements to create inviting, accessible and safe spaces for school-day play and after-hours recreation.
Changing the way schools think about property, especially when it comes to making their facilities available to non-students, can be a major philosophical shift. However, the national expertise of The Trust for Public Land coupled with the local knowledge of leaders within APS and other partners will ensure issues such as safety, littering and vandalism will be addressed from the beginning.
We are looking to our partners in the corporate and philanthropic communities to sponsor the Atlanta Community Schoolyards program. Corporate investment in the program makes sense, as access to strong schools and quality parks help attract and retain talent—and makes people healthier and happier. Community Schoolyards also offers a great opportunity for employee volunteer engagement in the tangible revitalization of communities.
Atlanta’s corporate community has a long history of supporting Atlanta’s schools and public parks, including the Delta Air Lines Foundation investment in Cook Park. Delta associates spent a day mixing concrete, assembling slides and seesaws and building additional playground elements that will be installed prior to the park’s opening later in 2019.
We are excited to bring Atlanta Community Schoolyards to our partners because the impact is multi-faceted. Not only will APS students benefit from additional private and corporate support for high-quality playgrounds and schoolyards during the day, but their families and the entire community will be able to make the most of these spaces when they would otherwise sit unused.
Parks are not a nicety—they are a necessity for urban residents. If we use our land and our resources efficiently, we can give everyone the ability to enjoy the outdoors, increase their health and well-being, connect with others, and reap the many benefits of a high-quality public space close to home—even if it means going back to school!
We are excited to be joined by our partners John Dargle, Jr. with the City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation and Michael Halicki with Park Pride to discuss how the Atlanta Schoolyards Program can help playlots and playgrounds do double-duty while also meeting the greenspace needs of communities during Park Pride’s Parks & Greenspace Conference on Monday, March 25. Register for the conference today and join the discussion.