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Recent Travels: The Beltline in Atlanta and Atlanta's jump in ParkScore 2022

Updated: May 10, 2022

By Charlie McCabe

Trees and drainage swale plantings along the Beltline (April 2022)

I first walked and biked portions of the Atlanta Beltline in 2017, after speaking at a mayoral forum hosted by Park Pride and the Trust for Public Land. I was struck by the sheer size of the project, as well as the high usage that portions were seeing, primarily through the Historic Fourth Ward. But what was truly astounding was the development of apartments and condos along the portion surrounding Historic Fourth Ward Park and Ponce City Market. At that point, the focus was on things not being done by the quasi-government organization (nonprofit funded through a variety of public bond funds and philanthropic donations) that was tasked with building the Beltline and related housing, transportation, and neighborhood plans. On follow-up trips, I visited and walked additional developed portions (or at least accessible portions) on the Westside, up through Piedmont Park. I got a sense of the scale of the project and the challenges to finish it. Atlanta Beltline, Inc. continues to work to complete the trail, and to increase housing and transportation options, but in a rapidly growing city like Atlanta, it is a challenge.

More recently, I visited Atlanta this April and was able to walk portions of the Beltline again for the first time since 2019. The increase in construction alongside the trail was even more staggering this time, and so was the usage by bikers, runners, walkers, and park visitors, exercising their dogs or headed to sports courts and ball fields. People of different ages and ethnicities perfectly reflected the diversity that is Atlanta. A variety of e-bikes and other mobility devices, as well as rollerblades and skateboards, were weaving around families with strollers and groups of teenagers. I've not seen sustained usage of this scale and variety since I lived in New York City when going to grad school in 2015-16.

Beltline usage at Ponce City Market (April 2022)

I've continued to work on parks and open space projects in Atlanta since my first visit in 2017, primarily when I was working at The Trust for Public Land, partnering with funders, the City of Atlanta, and Park Pride. There's an amazing collaborative effort between these nonprofits, the city, key funders, volunteers (including an array of park adopters), and others, including Trees Atlanta and the Conservation Fund. Their combined efforts have resulted in a huge increase in Atlanta's rank in the annual ParkScore Index, which uses a set of criteria to rank the parks systems of the 100 largest cities in the United States. In 2021, Atlanta was ranked 49th, but they rose 22 places to 27th in 2022, largely due to increases in spending as they developed and opened several new parks, including Westside Park and Rodney Cook Sr. Park, both located on the west side of Atlanta.

There's more work to do, but the city has an upcoming bond election that will fund more park improvements and additions. But the work of nonprofits, the city and many volunteers and funders continues. Park Pride, the city-wide parks nonprofit in Atlanta, works on a multitude of levels, funding neighborhood park projects (through grantmaking), hosting an annual citywide parks conference, and working with partners to convert schoolyards into parks and playgrounds. The Beltline has received funding to complete the trail and related projects by 2030. The Trust for Public Land is working on implementing a master plan to add greenbelt trails and blueways along a 100-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River. Trees Atlanta has taken on the creation and care for the Beltline Urban Arboretum, 85 acres (and growing) of restored or to-be-restored Greenspace along the completed portions of the trail through a five-year contract with Atlanta Beltline, Inc. A great overview of their work appeared in a recent PBS report.

But, congratulations to Atlanta, the city parks department, and its many nonprofit partners, volunteers and funds. Well done!

© Copyright 2022, Charlie McCabe Consulting LLC

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