Guest post by Shannon Lee, Conservation Associate at the Southeast Regional Office of The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that balances environmental conservation and economic development. Shannon is also a native of downtown Atlanta and grew up just a few miles from this project area.
Most of us have fond childhood memories of playing outside. Whether we were running through a patch of woods or playing in a neighborhood park, being a kid meant spending time exploring and enjoying outdoor spaces. For many urban kids, outside space and exposure to nature is limited to the small patch of land found at the local park. It’s a place where they can roll in the grass, catch and study bugs, splash in a small pond or just sit under the shade of a tree.
But imagine you’re a kid who doesn’t have a park, or a playground, or any natural outdoor space. How would you ever connect with nature if you spend your whole life surrounded by concrete and pavement? No walking paths, no trees, no bugs to catch, and no safe place to play? The kids in the English Avenue community of northwest Atlanta know exactly how that feels because they have never had a neighborhood park to call their own.
But that’s all about to change…
Since 2005, The Conservation Fund has been working with the City of Atlanta to expand the city’s park system. With support from the Arthur Blank Foundation, we completed 36 acquisition projects for 22 parks across the city, adding more than 200 acres of public park space. As part of this ongoing effort, we were asked to acquire land for the first park in the English Avenue community. Once we began working there, we saw that this neighborhood needed much more than a park.
English Avenue and the adjacent neighborhood of Vine City, lie in the headwaters of Proctor Creek, the most polluted tributary of the Chattahoochee River. These neighborhoods are blocks from bustling downtown Atlanta, but they are far from that world. These communities suffer from extreme poverty rates, high unemployment, the highest crime rates in the city and a vacancy rate near 60%. Stormwater flooding is also a significant problem and during heavy rain events the combined sewer overflow system dumps raw sewage into the community and into homes.
Unfortunately, these problems are not unique. Cities all around the country face similar problems and throughout America, more than 80% of us now live in urban areas. Protecting large landscapes for wildlife biodiversity is incredibly important, but so is protecting our city greenspaces and restoring the health and livelihood of our neighborhoods.
Now more than ever we must focus on urban conservation so that we can create environmental solutions that also provide for the economic and social needs of our communities. Through our Parks with Purpose initiative, we are doing just that – using small city parks to make a big difference!
Over the past two years, The Conservation Fund has been working to assemble six properties at Lindsay Street that will become the first park in the English Avenue community. At the same time we have been building local capacity and engaging stakeholders in a park visioning and planning process.
Not only will residents help plan the park, but this summer, community members will be able to join a workforce training program where they will receive vital skills in construction, landscaping, and financial literacy, all while getting paid to build their own neighborhood park. Plans also include construction of rain gardens, and other types of ‘green infrastructure’ that will help absorb stormwater and reduce localized flooding.
The Lindsay Street Park is coming this summer! This new greenspace will provide significant environmental, social and economic benefits to this highly urbanized neighborhood, but most importantly, the kids in English Avenue will finally have a neighborhood park. They will be able to run, to play, to catch bugs and best of all, to enjoy nature.
By supporting EarthShare, you support this and many other great projects.