Reflections on the power of parks after a week at the Regional Leadership Institute
By Rachel Maher, Director of Communications and Policy, Park Pride
At Park Pride, we are driven by the philosophy of the power of parks. That’s to say “When parks meet the needs and reflect the uniqueness of the communities they serve, they are welcoming places for all members of the community to gather, play, relax and connect with nature, encouraging mental health and physical and improving the resilience of our neighborhoods.”
What is meant by parks have the power to strengthen the resilience of our neighborhoods? I recently had the opportunity to think more deeply about this question when I joined local leaders to participate in the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Leadership Institute (RLI). RLI is an annual program that brings together leaders from across Metro Atlanta to assess our toughest problems and build the cross-jurisdictional and cross-industry relationships needed to solve them.
Throughout my week at RLI, I was reminded again and again of the incredible opportunities parks provide to advance regional economic, environmental and social outcomes. Below, I discuss the challenges faced at the RLI and the ability of the parks to meet them and support the residents of our growing metro, leading to greater regional resilience.
Workforce Development + Parks
Parks can advance economic development through workforce training programs, connecting community members to rewarding and meaningful jobs as stewards of our local environment.
John Helton, executive director of CareerRise, Inc., said that in almost every industry, employers are looking for workers. There is a mismatch between the workforce eager to find work and the skills and knowledge required for decent jobs that pay a fair wage with opportunities for growth.
This is true in the field of park maintenance and operations, with seasonal and full-time positions in park maintenance, forestry, gardening, etc., all too often remaining vacant. It is possible to invest in workforce development programs and match the training of individuals to the needs of park departments (or other businesses or government agencies) that need rangers. qualified environment.
The benefits of expanding workforce development training in areas such as forestry, gardening and park maintenance compound and improve regional resilience in two ways: First, these programs prepare people for meaningful, long-term careers, and their employment has beneficial economic impacts for them, their families, and their communities. Second, they provide relief to chronically understaffed parks departments, creating a strong pipeline of people trained in the skills most needed to effectively manage parks and natural areas. Which, in turn, leads to well-maintained parks and a healthy park system, a benefit everyone deserves to enjoy.
Climate Change + Parks
Parks are critical infrastructure that helps cities manage the negative impacts of climate change.
Katherine Zitsch, General Manager of ARC’s Natural Resources Group and Director of the North Georgia Metropolitan Area Water Planning District, explained in her RLI presentation how climate change is manifesting in the North Georgia region. ‘Atlanta through the cycle of floods and droughts. The graphic shared below explains that “Although we receive abundant rainfall most years, multi-year droughts are stressing our water supply and have become more frequent.” The result of more droughts followed by heavy rains?
More serious floods. This is because droughts harden the soil, making it difficult for rain to absorb into the ground when it falls. As water collects on the surface during a heavy downpour, the stormwater infrastructure is overwhelmed, leaving the water nowhere to go except into streets and people’s homes.
The parks, however, are uniquely equipped to mitigate increased flooding due to climate change. In fact, some of Atlanta’s newer parks were created specifically with stormwater mitigation in mind. The Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park on the west side of Atlanta, for example, is the third in a series of proposed parks in the Proctor Creek North Avenue Green Infrastructure Vision (Park Pride, 2010) to deal with the recurring flooding experienced in the English Avenue neighborhood. With the park’s green infrastructure, designed to capture runoff from adjacent streets and direct water to a series of rain gardens, swales and underground chambers, the park is expected to handle up to 3 .5 million gallons of stormwater per year and reduce flooding.
Cook Park, Historic Fourth Ward Park, Lindsay Street Park, and Dean Rusk Park are other examples of parks, large and small, specifically designed to manage stormwater runoff and reduce neighborhood flooding (while also serving as wonderful amenities community). Parks, and the resilient qualities they bring to cities and neighborhoods, are and will continue to be an important tool in addressing the regional and local impacts of climate change.
Atlanta’s Aging Population + Parks
The parks will maintain community cohesion as the region’s population ages, providing quality of life benefits that are important for enabling seniors to age in place.
Becky Kurtz, ARC’s Executive Director of Aging and Independent Services, shared her perspective on the nature of Atlanta’s aging population, urging leaders in attendance to consider Atlanta’s seniors and aging residents when are planning the future of the region. By 2050, Kurtz shared, one in four metro Atlanta residents will be over 60.
ARC advocates for lifelong communities – communities thoughtfully designed to allow people to stay in their homes and thrive in their communities as they age. At the top of the list of amenities that make communities livable for seniors? Outdoor spaces.
At all stages of life, it is important that people have access to the mental and physical health benefits that parks provide. Additionally, parks are community gathering spaces that combat loneliness, a condition we are learning is affecting a growing number of older adults and which can have serious negative health effects, especially in older generations. at risk of social isolation.
As the region ages, parks will be an important factor in keeping seniors in place and communities whole.
My week at the RLI brought several new perspectives on the most serious challenges facing our region, as well as the different approaches different sectors are taking to address them. The week, however, confirmed to me that parks, trails and other natural areas have an important role to play in addressing almost all of them. In many ways, economically, environmentally, and socially, parks make our neighborhoods, communities, cities, counties, and regions more resilient. Cheers to the RLI Class of 2022 – the best RLI class still— for helping to confirm it.