Metro Atlanta greenspace

A different kind of green

It’s a common refrain heard inside the Perimeter and out, a shared desire by city dweller and suburbanite alike: parks and public greenspace seem dear to residents’ hearts, and hopefully near to their homes.

In 2001, residents of Suwanee, about 32 miles north of Atlanta, voted to double their property taxes with a $17.7 million referendum that has increased the city’s open space from nine acres to approximately 300 acres. That includes what City Manager Marty Allen calls “the jewel of our system,” Town Center Park, an urban plaza and central meeting place for the community. Suwanee’s march to its outdoorsy goal — having 25 percent of the city devoted to open space — has helped land it on a number of “America’s Best Places to Live” lists.

More recently, the newly formed conservancy for Atlanta Memorial Park, which includes the Bobby Jones Golf Course off Northside Drive, got an idea how passionately neighbors felt about caring for the park’s 199 acres: When the conservancy organized a fund-drive seeking “founding members,” no fewer than 52 individuals and families sent in their checks of $1,000 (or more) apiece.

The pull of nature — and the clever curating of it around commercial and private development — resonates around the metro area. We love our civilized comforts, but we treasure the ability to get out and stretch our legs when we feel like it, preferably in some placid green setting. And we like to do it at a variety of venues, from Peachtree City’s multi-use golf cart paths to the Silver Comet Trail in Cobb and Paulding counties, from Atlanta’s Beltline to Woodstock’s new community garden and nearby dog park, appropriately named, Woofstock.

That said, parks hardly get a blank check: Two years ago, Dunwoody voters overwhelmingly rejected two $33 million bond issues the city proposed to use for parks. More recently, yard signs have popped up protesting, in part, the city’s approval of a $425,000 multi-use trail through Brook Run Park. (See related column below.)

Gwinnett County uses a portion of its sales tax for greenspace and Atlanta assesses park impact fees that fund acquisition and improvements. But there remain big challenges in keeping any greenspace momentum going, particularly at a time when governments are so stretched. Panelists at a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution Community Forum, sponsored by PNC Bank, stressed that aspirational goals for communties in terms of greenspace are important — Atlanta wants all its residents to be within a half-mile of public greenspace by 2020, says Denise Quarles, the city’s director of sustainability.

But nuts-and-bolts plans for maintaining what’s designed are crucial. There must be a real gut check on the grassroots level. “You’ve got to establish whether it’s truly a priority, or whether it’s just a statement of desire and wish,” said Suwanee’s Allen.

It helps to be low-maintenance, too, using innovations like solar-powered ballfield lights. Volunteers, too, are a must. Atlanta parks attract an average of 15,000 volunteer hours annually, as tracked by Park Pride, Quarles says.

Despite its reputation as a sylvan city lush with trees, Atlanta is comparatively under-parked. The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore recently ranked it 31st out of 50 major American cities. (The top five? Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Sacramento and Boston.) That’s something to work on. The devil will always be in the details of park development, but the quest for communal, even spiritual, connectivity through established — and protected — outdoor spaces is one that deserves our most careful and persistent long-range planning.

– Tom Sabulis, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board.

Great cities have great parks

By George A. Dusenbury

From Central Park to Boston Common to Golden Gate Park, iconic parks define cities. Great parks drive economic development, promote public health, strengthen communities and improve the environment.

In Atlanta, we have excellent parks like Adams, Grant and Chastain, as well as Piedmont Park, one of the finest in the nation, and the stunning Historic Fourth Ward Park, which represents the future of great parks in Atlanta.

At the heart of Historic Fourth Ward Park is the most magnificent water detention pond in the country, complete with an amphitheater, waterfalls and a meandering boardwalk. The pond has eliminated flooding of the old City Hall East Building, allowing for the largest office building in the South to be reborn as Ponce City Market. Anticipating the new park, surrounding neighborhoods approved the construction of more than 5,000 new housing units, creating a dense, new-urban environment.

Clean water, economic development and a stunning public space, all in one park.

Similar opportunity exists on Atlanta’s west side. Through a partnership between the Parks Department, Atlanta Beltline Inc. and the Department of Watershed Management, an old quarry will be transformed into a water reservoir, anchoring a park that will be nearly twice the size of Piedmont. This vast acreage could host whitewater rafting, equestrian trails and the largest sports complex in the City.

Other partnerships are driving the growth of Atlanta’s great public spaces. The Departments of Watershed Management and Parks & Recreation already have partnered to add more than 400 acres of green space. Cooperation with Atlanta Public Schools, the Atlanta Housing Authority and others can unlock hundreds of more acres.

Atlanta also will unlock the potential of existing parks and envision ways to make them world-class. Can we transform Adams Park in southwest Atlanta into the equivalent of Piedmont Park? Does a first-class mountain bike park lurk in the undeveloped woods of Southside Park in southeast Atlanta? Can Bankhead’s Maddox Park host an urban farm – complete with sheep, chickens and horses – all accessible by MARTA?

Connecting these parks and neighborhoods will be 33 miles of Atlanta Beltline trails, circling downtown and serving as a hub for trails extending from the Alabama border to Rockdale County. Residents will be able to walk, skate or ride their way around the city without ever leaving a trail.

Mayor Reed often says that Atlanta is a city that functions best when it aspires to greatness. In our public spaces, we aspire to nothing less.

George A. Dusenbury is commission of Atlanta’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

Please air out your plans for our parks

By Beverly Armento

Not everyone in Dunwoody is excited about the opening of Phase I of Brook Run Park’s new multi-use trail on Saturday. Some oppose the loss of hundreds of 50-year-old trees, mainly hardwoods, in the park’s Urban Forest. Others mourn the loss of habitat for deer, coyotes, snakes, owls and hawks. Still others say the price is too high: $425,000 for a .7 mile long, 12-foot- wide concrete trail.

Homeowners who live in adjacent communities, who have received flood waters directly from the two streams that flow through Brook Run Park, argue that insufficient actions are being taken to prevent additional rainwater runoff expected from the trail. And many feel that a plan for walking trails that they endorsed some two years ago was changed in significant ways without citizen input. They never envisioned a highway cutting through their park.

The 2011 plan called for an 8-foot asphalt trail that would be built following the footprint of an existing trail. Phase I for the trail would cost $130,000, with $100,000 coming from a Department of Natural Resources grant. By March 2012, however, when contracts were awarded to build the trail, life in Dunwoody had changed. Project Renaissance, a public-private enterprise, brought new opportunities to link various areas of the city. Internal decisions were then made to alter the Brook Run plan.

Now, the trail would be widened by four feet, made of concrete and, for about 50% of the path, would not follow the old asphalt trails, but would cut through heavily forested areas. No open meetings were held on issues such as the overall purpose for the trail, its size, composition or location. Cutting a wide swath through this environmentally sensitive park for what is essentially a concrete road drew controversy.

Trails enhance the quality of life in a community. However, citizens want a voice in planning and allocating their public and environmental resources. Should a trail foster communion with nature? Should it provide transit from one part of town to another? Should it provide recreation, education? Can it both preserve the environment and avert sediment, erosion and flooding problems already present?

The details of such economic and environmental trade-offs need to be aired openly, weighed fairly and finally determined with wisdom and vision.

Beverly Armento, Research Professor Emerita at Georgia State University, is a Dunwoody homeowner whose community is adjacent to Brook Run Park.

7 comments Add your comment


July 29th, 2013
8:28 am

I used to live in Virginia, right in the corner where Arlington meets Alexandria. There are many things I don’t miss about that place, but the one thing that I do miss is the bike trails. I’d go out every weekend when the weather was nice and ride for hours. The county even had a rule that all of its parks must be connected by trails, so I wasn’t confined to just taking the same route every time. There are not nearly enough options for biking around here, at least not where I live in Johns Creek.

Wishing For MIlton County

July 29th, 2013
8:17 am

How about that!!! Local communities paying for their parks!!! What a concept!!! Except, of course, Atlanta, where regjional T_SPLOT money was going to pay for the BELTLINE. That project was prioitized over truly REGIONAL transportation needs.

Beltline is a GREAT CONCEPT. ATLANTA SHOULD DO IT. One problem though. Atlanta always wants someone else to PAY FOR IT!!!

Finally, just because some politicians wrap up a bond issue in a pretty bow call PARKS & GREENWAYS, doesnot mean a good thing!!! ONe must watch these politicians all the time.
They love to spend OTHER PEOPLES MONEY TOO!!! So Dunwoody – keep it up!!!! Get the parks YOU want.

Oh Atlanta, try paying for something by yourself for once!!!

Suwanee Scam

July 28th, 2013
6:53 pm

Like every other local special interest election, the vote on this blatant theft of taxpayer dollars in Suwanee happened during an off-year election with the voting held at city hall while state-wide elections were held at other polling places in the city. The result, low turnout except among the supporters. And who were those supporters. For one, they included numerous financial beneficiaries of this scam The plan was sold as a bill to “preserve greenspace” and within weeks of passage, dozens of acres of tress fell to make way for the “town center” location near the overpriced new town hall. Additionally millions of dollars of profit was made by well-connected land owners who benefitted nicely from the purchase of otherwise unsold land. Were this land desireable to a developer, given Suwanee’s growth at the time, it would easily have been sold. Now the city owns it and the taxpayers continue to pay and pay and pay. Meanwhile the main corridor into Suwanee (Lawrenceville-Suwanee road is a parking lot from 4-7 pm with nearly 30+ minutes required to get to 85 from Satellite Blvd. The growth of massive retail developments has only worsened that problem while bringing hundreds if not thousands of additional drivers to the area. Of course the city council has found plenty of ways to waste all the new money coming in.

99% of all the problems so-called “greenspace” is supposed to correct are government-created in the first place. It hardly seems appropriate to turn to them for solutions – yet we do over and over and over with the same poor results.


July 28th, 2013
11:07 am

Keep up your urban project schemes and you will see that those of us who despise urban will do as those in Colorado and petition to leave the state!


July 28th, 2013
11:06 am


Jack ®

July 28th, 2013
4:49 am

More trees and grass. Less cement.


July 27th, 2013
11:33 pm

I agree that Metro-Atlanta is “under-parked” however it does seem that some real progress has been made. My Father worked for years in the Old Forth Ward when it was more commercial/industrial and the transformation around the park has been amazing. A steady series of improvements to Piedmont Park as well as the linear park along Pounce de Leon Ave have also enhanced the area. Gwinnett County has also done a good job of obtaining green space including several smaller projects such as neighborhood stream restoration projects.

However, there are still some challenges that need to be addresses. For instance Gwinnett currently has former County Commissioners under indictment for improper relationships with Real Estate Brokers. Did any of this involve green space or park projects? Also, Stone Mountain Park, one of our greatest resources, has slowly transformed itself into a place that caters more to tourist than residents.