Since 1989, Park Pride has been the only nonprofit in the City of Atlanta – and later Tucker, Brookhaven and DeKalb County – to work alongside communities to improve their neighborhood parks through redesigns, grants, volunteer projects, advocacy and more.
“Our mission is to engage communities in the power of parks. We’re not a membership organization. We want folks to get involved in their neighborhood parks – in most cases that’s a Friends of Park group or a conservancy. That community orientation makes all the difference in what we do, what we’ve accomplished and the relationships we built,” Park Pride Executive Director Michael Halicki said.
Any number of park users – environmentalists, community advocates, public health enthusiasts – can form a Friends of the Park (FoP) group and count on Park Pride for support.
“These people roll up their sleeves and jump in. You call them, they come. You need help, they show up,” Park Pride Director of Community Building Tina Arnold said.
In 2018, FoP groups completed 370 different projects. Park Pride provides opportunities for the 170-plus groups to learn from each other at monthly meetings, the annual summit or annual conference plus other resources like workshops, access to funding and free tool rental.
“[FoP] are from every demographic mix and geography of our service area. A Friends group in Buckhead can rely on a Friends group in English Avenue for advice and support, and vice versa. It’s all this mutual support network and that’s a pretty extraordinary thing,” Halicki said.
Park Pride’s grantmaking programs help fund the smallest clean-up project to a full-scale park overhaul that have local parks department approval.
“Rather than assess individual park projects, major Atlanta foundations gave Park Pride a pot of money for grantmaking,” Halicki said. In its 2018 grant cycle, Park Pride awarded $864,000 to 21 community groups to fund capital park improvements. Zonolite Park received a grant for plantings and expanding the community garden. Park Pride is encouraging volunteers to turn out for its Greener Good project at Zonolite on April 27 from 9 a.m. to noon.
“[Zonolite FoP] are working to get part of the park certified as an Audubon wildlife sanctuary,“ Park Pride Volunteer Manager John Ahern said. Toward that aim, Greener Good volunteers will clear invasive plants after a first pass by goats and remove cattails to re-establish open water for migrating birds.
Park Pride’s community orientation and partnerships are perhaps best exemplified by its collaborative effort on Atlanta’s Westside. In 2010, State Representative Able Mable Thomas asked the nonprofit to work with the community to support the first park in English Avenue. The area was grappling with vacant buildings and land, chronic flooding from capped creeks used for sewers, low topography and runoff from downtown.
“They moved the streams but nobody told the raindrops,” Halicki said about the chronic flooding.
Park Pride responded with a year-long public outreach project to create the Proctor North Avenue Study (PNA) with pro-bono partners like Perkins + Will, Eberly and Associates, national environmental organizations like The Conservation Fund and American Rivers, and community groups like the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance and Community Improvement Association.
“The vision was a connected network of parks to absorb storm water and address the lack of parks,” Halicki said.
Since then, the community and many partners joined Park Pride and The Conservation Fund to create Lindsay Street Park in English Avenue and to expand Vine City Park. This year, four youth from the neighborhood were hired to develop a third green space from the PNA study into Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park, named to memorialize the English Avenue resident killed by police in 2006. The National Recreation and Park Association awarded Park Pride a $437,000 grant for this park. Other funders include the Coca-Cola Foundation, Home Depot Foundation, Georgia Pacific Foundation and PNC Bank.
“It shows what can be achieved when you think big, stay connected to the community, and build up one project at a time.” Halicki said.
Park Pride also encourages advocacy for park access and proper maintenance. In 2007, it championed legislation for community gardens in public parks. The nonprofit has been a vocal supporter of The Trust for Public Land’s 10-Minute Walk Campaign, and in 2018, Mayor Bottoms signed a pledge supporting the initiative.
“We have folks show up in green shirts, when the Parks Commissioner outlines the budget proposal,” Halicki said. “The ‘green shirt army’ shows that there are constituents in every district that care about their parks, that vote and are active. Sometimes we’re not on the same page, but we are all working toward the same goal.”
Even though Atlanta may not have the best park system in the country, because of Park Pride it is often held up as an example of a new urban parks movement – with local park stewardship, coordinated advocacy, connection to philanthropy and receptive government.
“We know the community, the people in the community who effect change and the people in the parks department that they’re calling. We are looking to build a strong Park Pride that will be around for the next 30 years,” Halicki said.
For more information about Park Pride and upcoming events, visit parkpride.org.
Park Pride By The Numbers:
- Provided support for 250-plus parks and facilitated the organization of 170-plus FoP groups
- Coordinated 580,000 volunteer service hours in parks
- Awarded $6.6 million for park improvements to community groups through its Small Change, Community Building, and Legacy Grants
- Completed 44 Park Visions
- Helped communities raise over $5.5 million through the Fiscal Partners Program
- Assisted with the creation of 22 community gardens and 5 pollinator gardens