By Theresa Gang, City Parks Alliance Senior Membership Manager
While visiting Atlanta, Georgia, this past October for our board meeting, we received an invitation to a park opening. City Parks Alliance Executive Director Catherine Nagel and I were walking along the Atlanta BeltLine, a historic 22-mile open and planned loop of multi-use trail and light rail transit system around the city, which led us along a connecting trail to a new neighborhood park.
The warm sunshine made it the perfect day on our trip to discover this beautiful tight-knit community celebrating its neighborhood matriarch, Mattie Freeland. We saw firsthand how this park project grew through the passion and commitment of the residents organized through the Friends of Mattie Freeland Park and supported by organizations like Park Pride and the City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation Department.
Mattie lived adjacent to the park, and residents advocated to include her house in the project, which was transformed into a community meeting space commemorating her.
Community members and park advocates cut the ribbon at Mattie Freeland Park, including representatives from Friends of Mattie Freeland Park, Park Pride, The Conservation Fund, and the City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation Department.
The bright colors of the playground sparkled in the sunlight as Kelsi Eccles, Urban Conservation Communications Manager for The Conservation Fund, spoke about meeting with residents and the community planning process.
The artwork played into the park’s design to educate future generations on the achievements of Atlanta natives, including Mayor Maynard Jackson and singer Gladys Knight. The park had many elements typically found in green spaces across the country: a shelter, grills, newly planted trees, meandering paths, and more.
Yet, this park, named after a woman who fought for her neighborhood, felt especially unique because of the community spirit. There was a clear sense of pride and ownership demonstrated by the neighbors who made this vision a reality.
Vibrant elements of the project include creative art on the playground, a gathering space in the community center, and natural design features around the park.
While park projects vary by size and scope, the connection a neighborhood park serves for a community is vital, especially when it physically connects to a larger trail system like the Atlanta BeltLine. These connections are not just by the paved paths but by the relationships built and the communities transformed.
I imagine that these neighborhoods could hear the rattle of the train cars decades ago, but now they will listen to the children laughing and playing in safe spaces. It was an honor to witness this celebration. Thank you to everyone who made it happen and to those of you doing this work daily in your community.
From left, Park Pride Executive Director Michael Halicki poses with City Parks Alliance Executive Director Catherine Nagel, The Speedwell Foundation Founder and CPA Board Member Mike Messner, and Park Pride Development Director Ariane DeLong.
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