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Why Atlanta Ranks Only 50th In Public Parks Index

Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo/Brenna Beech)
Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (Photo/Brenna Beech)
Credit Brenna Beech / WABE File
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Atlanta has a lot of work to do to catch up with public parks in other major American cities.

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The non-profit Trust for Public Land has come out with an annual report called ParkScore that grades the 100 largest cities in the United States in terms of parks. Atlanta tied with Dallas for 50th place in the survey, a slight improvement from the 2016 ParkScore rankings, in which Atlanta came in 51st.

ParkScore judges cities on three factors: park access, park size and facilities and investments. Park access measures the percentage of residents living with a 10 minute walk of a park. Park size is based on the city’s median park size in comparison to the percentage of the total city’s area dedicated to parks.

Facilities and investments measures park spending per resident and the availability of park amenities like basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, and recreation and senior centers.

Only six percent of Atlanta’s land is dedicated to public parks, compared with a national average of nine percent. New York City, by comparison, has 21 percent of its land set aside for public parks.

Adrian Benepe, vice president and director of city park development at the Trust for Public Land, said most people in Atlanta have to walk more than 10 minutes to get to a public park.

“The cities that are finding it easier to deal with things now are those who have greater density and where people live together, stacked up in apartment buildings, but they’re able to get out and get around more easily and don’t have to drive,” Benepe said.

Benepe said urban sprawl is another reason Atlanta ranked 50th in the country.

“You know, where you see low scores, they tend to be cities that have a lot of sprawl, whose growth was dictated by the fast development of suburbs and interstate highways and freeways,” Benepe said.

“Um . . . I think that sense of Atlanta is really changing,” said Michael Halicki, director of Park Pride, a nonprofit based in Atlanta.  “The BeltLine is a good example that we’re changing the sense of what it’s like to live in the city.”

The Trust for Public Land does like the BeltLine. Benepe said it’s a visionary project and the city of Atlanta needs to keep it up.

Although it’s not included in the ParkScore index, one area Atlanta does really well in is canopy coverage, meaning Atlanta streets are filled with trees. Benepe said this helps alleviate some of the heat generated from climate change.

“[Atlanta] is among the best in the country. You do very well in street trees. I suppose it’s because you have so many streets named Peachtree,” Benepe said.

He’s joking, of course, but he said there’s a little truth to it. In his experience, Benepe said cities that have many streets named after trees often actually care about trees.

More details about Atlanta’s ParkScore Index ranking for 2017 can be found here.