Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A rant about greenspace

Of all the issues facing the city, I would not put a need for more greenspace in the top five. Off the top of my head, my top five issues would be:
  1. Police Department and Crime
  2. Transit
  3. Finances and operations management
  4. Public school system
  5. Affordable housing
Nevertheless, some folks think it is important. A new civic organization, the Parks Atlanta Rescue Coalition, wants to devote one mill of property taxes to almost double the budget for parks operations. They like to point out that compared to other cities, Atlanta has a minuscule amount of parkspace. They would be correct, but whenever I hear that fact I like to point out that the vast majority of the city is made up of single family homes, and that many of these homes have back yards. Trying to compare us to cities like Chicago or New York isn't particularly fair, since we have far less density.

One of my biggest pet peeves is that the BeltLine kind of got hijacked by the parkspace brigade. I have always felt that the transit portion of the BeltLine was the most important piece for the city's long term future. The associated park space was an added benefit, but the transit was more important. However, when the Mayor finally got on board with the BeltLine, all we heard about was the "emerald necklace" of parks we'd be getting. All the money and time went to buying parks and designing parks. The transit, we are told, will take decades. Thats great - we'll add some new greenspace while the infrastructure of the city rots.

My list above are what I see as necessities for a well-functioning city. Without these things, it doesn't really matter how many parks you have, because no one will want to live in your city. They either won't feel safe, can't get around, can't depend on the city to provide basic services, won't raise their family here, or simply cannot afford to live here. AFTER all those things, I'm concerned with things like greenspace.


  1. I'm with you. In his February talk here Andrés Duany made some very good points about green space and particularly bad green space that made me slap my forehead.

    Much our our existing green space is dead (people don't want to be there) and dangerous.

    Keeping people safe is #1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

  2. I certainly wouldn't characterize Dallas as a city with far greater density than Atlanta, and yet we have 1/3rd the percentage of greenspace.

    I absolutely agree that 'dead greenspace' is wasted and potentially dangerous (to me much of Freedom Parkway greenspace falls into this category), however parks that are safe and usable are absolutely vital anchors to livable communities.

    One could certainly posit that Piedmont Park was vital to the emergence of Midtown and Virginia Highlands as strong desirable communities when they were undergoing transitions in the 1980's. Go look at John Howell Park on any day in Va. Highlands and see the effect of small, well kept greenspaces.

    I am also convinced that the 4th Ward Park is going to be critical to making that area a truly desirable location to live in.

    There is no reason that safety, transportation, and greenspaces need to be exclusive - all of these elements are absolutely critical to making Atlanta a livable desirable community, and they should *all* be addressed by the incoming mayor.

  3. I like your point about the city being made up largely of single-family homes, which, as you say, dramatically changes the need for greenspace.

  4. I've recently been reading a lot about planning history in the twentieth century and about the Garden City/Suburb models in England (Unwin and Olsen), Germany (Ernst May), and Clarence Stein/Henry Wright designed communities in the Northeastern US (Radburn NJ/Sunnyside Gardens, NY). I think that the idea of greenbelt acquisition in conjunction with affordable housing construction (or in Atlanta's case, preservation) may be an idea worth considering again. With real estate depressed, now is a good time to start thinking big about future planning models and methods. Sorry about the general post, but it's just my two cents.

  5. I fear by the time they get around to putting in the transit portion of the Beltline we will have flying cars. So it won't matter.


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