Cities Learn Recreational Spaces Can Solve Community Challenges

June 5, 2020

By Gayle Horton Gay

Across Georgia, land use projects have been completed and are underway that are providing recreational benefits for Georgians and, in some cases, resolving infrastructure problems as well.

Picture of park entrance sign.

The 3.5-acre Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park in Atlanta opened in November 2019 after one year of planning with heavy community input and two years of construction at a cost of $4.5 million.
The area suffered negative effects of flooding and combined sewer overflow. In 1999, the city of Atlanta tore down an apartment complex on the site that was contaminated with mold, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the redevelopment started.
Ariel shot of park grounds.
The park has been designed with underground water retention chambers, rain gardens, construct­ed wetlands and other green infrastructure features to capture stormwater runoff from adjacent streets, reducing the negative impacts of flooding and im­proving water quality, according to The Conservation Fund’s website.
“It was designed, developed, constructed and activated by those who live in the community,” said Shannon Lee, senior urban conservation manager with The Conservation Fund (CF). “Residents have been the ones who championed that project and they are the ones going to benefit from it.”
Children playing in the park with large leaves.
Lee, who was involved in the project, is the lead with CF’s Parks with Purpose, which has six projects completed or underway including one that’s an edible landscape. She considers the project, which was a collabora­tion with the fund, Park Pride and residents, a success.
Lee said the key to success with similar projects is inclusion of community residents and garnering com­munity support from the start.
Another land use park project that resolved an environmental issue is Rodney Cook Park, which is in the final stages of construction. The 16-acre park came to be after the city of Atlanta and its partners bought several residential properties in an area that was prone to flooding. The park was planned to be an enhancement to the community and manage the flow of water.
According to David Hayes, unit manag­er of the Voluntary Remediation Unit of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), the park has a storm water manage­ment pond, walking paths and plenty of greenspace.
“There’s definitely some great benefits to this project,” said Hayes citing the removal of lead impacted soil from the site as well as mitigating flooding.
He said communities considering a land use project that has environmental impact is­sues should first contact the state’s voluntary remediation program through the EPD.
Connecting Communities Through Nature and Recreation
Picture of playground equipment.
The LINC is Newnan’s multi-use path sys­tem. It is a 12-foot-wide paved path, a linear park that facilitates recreation, connectivity and economic development. The goal is to provide residents and visitors with access to bicycle and pedestrian trails, offer an alterna­tive transportation venue, serve recreation needs and encourage quality of life.
Phase 1 of LINC opened January 2019. Construction of Phase 2 is currently underway and will add 3.4 miles to the current 1.4-mile trail and will extend the trail into Downtown Newnan with a bridge over Interstate 85.
“The LINC emulates the Silver Comet Trail, the Atlanta Beltline, the Carrollton Greenbelt and many more lin­ear parks in the Southwest,” said Kim Learnard, direc­tor of Friends of LINC. Inc. on the organization’s web­site. “Linear parks are now one of the most sought-after amenities for home buyers. They increase property val­ues, improve underutilized greenspace, usher in new business and encourage tourism and special events.”
Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provides grants through its Outdoor Stewardship Pro­gram, Land and Water Conservation Fund and Recre­ational Trails Program. Among the types of projects funded are reforestation, watershed rehabilitation, trail construction and rehabilitation as well as acquisi­tion and renovation of public outdoor recreational ar­eas and others.
In Varnell in north Georgia—14 miles south of the Tennessee border—the city aided by a $25,000 DNR grant added a new playground to its existing Peacock Alley park.
“Through community visioning, attracting youth and young families back to the city of Varnell was iden­tified as an important goal of the community,” states a DNR statement about the project. “Quality park and recreation facilities were identified as important fac­tors for millennials in deciding where to live.”
Varnell officials apparently agree, as they placed the new play area in the middle of the existing walking track. Varnell hopes to make Peacock Alley Park more attractive to young parents who will be able to watch their children play while exercising on the track.
DNR encourages cities to consider outdoor recreation when doing land use planning, and to explore the various options available to cities on the following page.

This article appears in the May/June 2020 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.

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