March 20, 2017|By Michael Halicki and Shannon Lee
Shannon: What makes Park Pride unique?
Michael: I joined Park Pride three and a half years ago, thinking this organization was an environmental group similar to others that I had previously worked for. Instead, I found a community-building organization that works through parks to accomplish its mission. The environment is always part of the equation, but the parks themselves are really just the vehicles by which we affect change. It’s more about building the community than just building a park.
Michael Halicki, Executive Director of Park Pride, installing plants at Vine City Park, a Park With Purpose project. Photo courtesy of Michael Halicki.
Shannon: Our organizations share a similar approach to urban parks, in that our work is really about impacting communities beyond top-priority environmental outcomes. Can you tell us more about the study that really started our partnership?
Michael: In 2010, we initiated a study called the Proctor Creek North Avenue Green Infrastructure Vision (PNA Vision) to address stormwater issues and lack of greenspace in the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods. In addition to a high level of community involvement, we enlisted the help of partners including the Fund, American Rivers, and a number of community-based nonprofits such as Community Improvement Association, ECO-Action and West Atlanta Watershed Alliance. The PNA Vision identified a series of interconnected parks and green spaces that would address the communities’ concerns about chronic flooding and desire for greenspace in Atlanta’s west side neighborhoods.
Evidence of the chronic flooding in Atlanta’s west side neighborhoods is not hard to find, as shown in this photograph of Proctor Street near the future site of Boone Park West. Photo by Eric Fyfe.
This study brought Park Pride and the Fund together as partners, and has become a playbook of sorts as we’ve worked to make that vision a reality park by park. In 2015, we supported the Fund’s efforts to create Lindsay Street Park—the first park in English Avenue and the first park to be built that grew out of the PNA Vision. Vine City Park existed prior to the PNA study, but since, we’ve worked together to double its size, added a rain garden, expanded the playground and exercise equipment and fully realized the potential of that park. Now, we are working in collaboration on the next park in that larger vision—Boone Park West.
Boone Park West will combine green infrastructure with passive and active recreational elements to create a park that provides a safe place for kids to play and for families and residents to gather. Most important, the park will reduce the impacts of stormwater flooding.
Recently, the PNA Vision was recognized by Southface Energy Institute as a recipient of the 2017 Fulcrum Award. This award is given each year “to recognize people and projects laying the foundation for a regenerative future. They represent excellence with respect to a regenerative economy, responsible resource use, social equity and a healthy built environment for all.” This award was accepted by Park Pride on behalf of all its partners. We are now able to say that the PNA Vision is “award winning.” It is our roadmap toward a better future on Atlanta’s Westside.
Shannon: Park Pride allows us to build deeper roots and credibility in neighborhoods, because your organization is well known and respected here in Atlanta. This helped us expand our community-based approach—creating more than 60 partnerships for our Parks with Purpose program. Why do you feel both national and local partnerships are so important?
Michael: The Fund’s national presence elevates what we’re doing and provides greater exposure. I don’t think we would have attracted both national funding and attention if we didn’t have you as a partner. And you’ve also legitimized our efforts locally to say that it’s important not just for what’s happening here in Atlanta, but to urban areas all across the U.S.
Ultimately, our efforts on the west side have not been about just building one park, but it’s been about catalyzing a movement in local communities that need parks most. We could have, for example, built Vine City Park with far fewer groups involved, but by taking an inclusive approach that engages many partners we’ve built momentum—and the number of partners continues to grow as we build more and more parks.
Shannon: How do you view the value of parks, both from a professional and personal standpoint?
Michael: My definition of the value of parks has broadened greatly. I am fortunate to have a job that actually takes me to all these places as a normal course of my day. I’ve found that the idea of getting to know the city and all the different benefits that parks offer has really changed me. I now look beyond the ecological benefits and the idea of nature in the city, to see that parks are also about jobs, health and wellness, economic development and community revitalization.
The line between professional and personal value of parks certainly blurs. My son, for example, now has a tradition where for his birthday every year we go to a park he’s never gone to and he jumps in a creek with his friends. There are so many cool parks all within the city of Atlanta that most people don’t even know exist.
Photo by Michael Halicki; @halickim
Shannon: You often take photographs while you’re out exploring and enjoying parks and post them on Facebook and Instagram. How has social media changed the way we can promote park experiences?
Instagram has rekindled my love of photography. It provides a visual record of my time at Park Pride. The more that we can show the value of parks, and the people whose lives are being improved because of them, the better. Parks provide value that is experiential. I try to capture some sense of that magic as a visual record of my experience.
Follow @halickim on Instagram for more of Michael’s park adventures: www.instagram.com/halickim/. Photo by Michael Halicki.
Visually speaking, at Park Pride we ask people to fill in a sign that reads, “I heart parks, because…,” and their responses really tell the story of the impact of parks in our communities. Sharing it on social media just expands the reach.
On December 3, 2016 we hosted a community day at the site that will be Boone Park West. Check out more photos of the day here. Photo by Rachel Whyte/Park Pride.
Shannon: How is Park Pride’s work redefining conservation?
Michael: We bring traditional conservation to non-traditional audiences, while also trying to redefine what traditional conservation is by putting it into different environments—like urban settings. We’ve been effective at building a movement that includes the community and a wide range of partners, all of which bring differing perspectives to the table. Our collective capabilities and level of expertise is really what’s redefining the urban parks movement—certainly in Atlanta, and arguably all across America.
Our current collaborative Parks With Purpose project in Atlanta is Boone Park West, which has received support from a variety of partners including National Parks and Recreation Association, City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation Department, Invest Atlanta, U-Haul, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Park Pride, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, SunTrust Bank, PNC Bank, Wells Fargo, Yates Family Fund, Georgia Pacific, Turner Foundation, AEC Trust, City of Atlanta Office of Resiliency, Pisces Foundation and Munroe Foundation.
Check out Shannon’s blog post about Lindsay Street Park: Lindsay Street Park Is a Park With Purpose
Watch this video to find out more about Lindsay Street Park: