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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Power of Parks

Beginning in Britain around 1760 and ending between 1820 and 1840, the first Industrial Revolution was responsible for global shifts in population class structure, lifestyle, and urbanization. Factories located within cities required a strong workforce and rural residents responded with urban relocation. Public parks emerged as a way to enhance urban life with recreational outlets and natural beauty.

Victoria Park, London
photo courtesy of
London's Victoria Park ignited the movement of communities investing in public parks. Feeling disconnected from nature, over 30,000 London residents petitioned Queen Victoria in 1840 to create a public park open to the entire population, regardless of class. Victoria Park was also known as the "People's Park" due to the number of political meetings hosted at the park,

In 1859 Central Park in New York City, co-designed by renowned landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, opened as America's first purpose-built park. Olmsted used the term "landscape architect" in the Central Park submission; it was the first time the now prominent profession was mentioned.

Parks are recognized as the lifeblood of a city's sense of community. Beyond their original recreational purposes, urban public parks are a valuable metropolitan asset and a strong indicator of a city's vitality.

The Value of Parks
Parks play a dynamic, valuable role in a city's infrastructure. Per the City Parks Alliance, leveraging the power of parks, urban public parks provide tremendous value to a city:

Restored wetlands @ Toronto's
Corktown Commons
photo courtesy LAI Toronto LEW
  • Economic value - Parks support public health, the economy, the environment, education, and community cohesion. Parks are critical to workforce development, particularly green career tracks. Parks make our cities sustainable, livable, and vibrant. In addition, parks produce measurable health, environmental, and community savings.
  • Public health value -  Parks help lower stress, improve physical and emotional health, reduce hyperactivity, and build stronger immune systems. With abundant foliage, public parks "clean" the air through the photosynthesis process within trees and other plants.
  • Environmental value - Parks with natural landscapes are vital to preserving regional ecosystems amid growing cities. By absorbing carbon dioxide and pollutants fueling climate change, parks and green infrastructure offset the warming effects on cities, making them cooler. Strategically planned urban green spaces transport and store stormwater runoff within the park or safely into waterways. Otherwise, the runoff could overpower sewer systems causing costly flood damage and environmental pollution.
  • Community value - Parks control urban sprawl and reduce crime, creating safer communities. Green revitalization in a distressed area is often a beacon of change for the entire community. New or refurbished signature parks in city centers or redeveloping communities can promote social health, generate jobs, and spur economic growth. 

Park Rankings
The Trust for Public Land issues the annual ParkScore based on a 100-points system with three categories: acreage, facilities & investment, and access. Within acreage, parks earn points based on median park size and parkland as a percentage of city area. Facilities and investment points are earned based on spending per resident and amenities. For access, points are based on the percentage of the population within a ten-minute walk (1/2 mile) of a public park.

Chicago's Lakefront Trail, an urban park
Only the top three ranked cities received a greater than 80 Parkscore: 1> Minneapolis (87.5), 2> St. Paul (82.5), and 3> San Francisco (80.0).

With 51 points, Atlanta ties with Dallas for #50 in the ParkScore 2017 rankings. Atlanta boasts 4,991 acres of parkland, serving 91 people per acre. With an average of 3.1 acres per park, Atlanta parkland is 6% of the city's total land. Annually, Atlanta spends $134.46 per resident on parks.

Park Pride
Grant Park, Atlanta
Summer Shade Festival
photo courtesy Michael Halicki
Founded in 1989, Park Pride is the only nonprofit organization working with communities all over Atlanta and Dekalb County to improve their parks. Under the helm of Executive Director Michael Halicki, Park Pride adopted a new strategic plan in 2016 focused on deepening impact in the communities and parks served. The 2016 Impact Report shares the strategic plan components and successes.

The Power of Parks: Park Pride helps neighborhood groups make the best use of greenspaces that contribute to the overall health and well-being of Atlanta. Per the website:
Park Pride Philosophy: Park Pride believes in the Power of Parks. Great parks have the power to increase our quality of life and strengthen the fabric of our cities. They are places for members of the community to gather, play, relax, and lose themselves in nature, encouraging mental and physical health. Great parks promote community engagement, safety, and revitalization. They spur economic development and benefit tourism. Great parks make our citizens happy, our communities strong and our cities sustainable.
Park Pride Mission: To engage communities to activate the power of parks.
Park Pride Vision: We envision a nationally recognized network of locally inspired parks, greenspaces and trails that engages individuals, strengthens communities and transforms Atlanta.
Through the Friends of the Park program, Park Pride empowers local groups to build and maintain a strong network of neighborhood parks via a wide range of services and programs:

Friends of the Park meeting
at Standing Peachtree Park
photo courtesy of Park Pride
  • Park Visioning Program - professional assistance to communities for neighborhood parks master plan development.
  • Grant Programs - matching grant programs offer multiple options for communities to create and fund their ideal greenspace.
  • Fiscal Partners Program - easier access to funding for park projects.
  • Organized Volunteer Workdays - access to a team of volunteers to help with park projects.
  • Monthly Park Meetings - community gatherings designed around education, networking, and support related to improving parks and the park system.
  • Workshops - opportunity to attend workshops that serve the community and parks.
  • Park Tool Shed - free service that provides basic landscaping tools and equipment to more efficiently equip volunteers for park projects.
  • Park Play Library - rental recreational equipment packages for all kinds of activities.
In February 2017, Park Pride received a $60,000 Home Depot Foundation grant in partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) for the “Pollinators in Parks” pilot initiative; the pilot purpose is to increase the presence and impact of pollinator gardens in five Atlanta Parks. 

Winter Pollinator Garden Sign
ABG Pollinator Garden Coordinator Melina Lozano DurĂ¡n explains “Pollinator gardens are not only necessary to help natural ecosystems and their plant and animal communities to thrive within cities, but they also nurture our connection to nature.”

The five "Pollinators Parks" pilot locations are Blue Heron Nature Preserve (Buckhead), Four Corners Park (South Atlanta), Gilliam Park (East Atlanta), Grove Park (West Atlanta) and Welch Street Park (Southwest Atlanta). 

Lambda Alpha International Meeting
Michael accepted his nomination to Lambda Alpha International (LAI), a prominent land economics honorary, and joins Elemental Impact Founder Holly Elmore as an active Atlanta Chapter member. At Holly's invitation, Michael presented at the LAI Atlanta Chapter fall meeting in mid-October hosted by Piedmont Park Conservancy.

Michael introducing
Stephen in the background
In addition to a nice welcome to Atlanta's most visited park, Piedmont Park Conservancy President Mark Banta educated on the park's intriguing history.

As the meeting keynote speaker, Michael presented on Engaging Communities to Activate the Power of Parks. Instead of a formal PPT presentation, Michael used the 2016 Impact Report as his visual tool. The LAI Blog post, Fall LAI Atlanta Chapter Meeting, includes the meeting notes by LAI Board Secretary Bill de St. Aubin, Sizemoregroup CEO.

During his presentation, Michael invited Cox Conserves Hero Finalist Stephen Causby to speak on his impressive neighborhood park success. At the helm of a grassroots effort to transform a vacant neighborhood lot into the Mattie Freeland Park, Stephen oversaw the park development, managed cleanups, executed programming, wrote grants, and solicited community support. The park transformed the neighborhood into a community. Park Pride nominated Stephen for the Cox Conserves Hero awards.

The Ei FB album, Lambda Alpha International, is a pictorial recap of the fall meeting.

As Industrial Revolutions continue to evolve from water & steam (first) to electric power for mass production (second) to technology to automate manufacturing (third) to the current digital era, the Power of Parks gains strength and importance with each evolution. The Power of Parks is well beyond the immediate tangible benefits of recreation and within the intangible, yet measurable, benefits of economic, public health, environmental and community value.


About Lambda Alpha International:
Lambda Alpha International (LAI) is an honorary society for the advancement of land economics. LAI provides a forum for the study and advancement of land economics where the "winnowing and sifting" of ideas takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

LAI operates through a network of chapters. LAI Chapters provide a variety of programs and forums for its members to share information critical to understanding important land-use issues. The IMPACT Blog article, Lambda Alpha International Atlanta Chapter: growing membership, influence and impact, introduces LAI along with its history and designated purposes.

In December 2013 Ei Founder Holly Elmore was inducted into membership and serves on the LAI Atlanta Chapter Board. In addition, Holly serves on the LAI Global Public Relations and Communications Committee.

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