Parks With Purpose: Atlanta
Map by The Conservation Fund.
At A Glance: The Area
In the Proctor North Avenue, Vine City and English Avenue area of Atlanta:
- 37% of housing is vacant, and 20% of properties are vacant lots
- The foreclosure rate is 40%
- The crime rate is twice that of the rest of Atlanta
- There are fewer acres of planned green space than anywhere else in the city
The Fund is taking a comprehensive approach to conservation in Atlanta that includes:
- Helping the city identify green space and acquire land for parks
- Planning green infrastructure for better stormwater management and flood control
- Engaging the community in cleaning up the green space and planning the parks
- Training community leaders in effective green infrastructure planning and implementation
The Fund has been working for more than a decade to establish parks and green space in Atlanta. As part of our effort, we’re working with local partners in the Proctor North Avenue section of the city, stretching from the Georgia World Congress Center and Georgia Dome to the Atlanta Beltline.
The Proctor North Avenue area, which includes the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods, lies in the shadow of downtown Atlanta, less than a mile from the Georgia Dome and the site where the Atlanta Falcons football team will build its new $1 billion stadium. Yet these streets are not the lifeline to Atlanta; they are plagued with some of the highest rates of crime, unemployment and foreclosure in the city.
These neighborhoods also lie in the headwaters of Proctor Creek and its tributaries. At one time, water flowed all the way from the headwaters to the Chattahoochee River. Over the past several decades, the creek has been nearly destroyed by development and piped with sewage drains. Today, Proctor Creek is besieged by high bacteria levels, illegal dumping, pollution and erosion. The pollutants from the Proctor Creek Watershed affect water quality in these neighborhoods and have a direct impact on the Chattahoochee River.
When It Rains, It Floods
When it rains, runoff from downtown Atlanta’s concrete-covered lots sends polluted water cascading into the streets and into the few areas where streams and creeks flow above ground. In very heavy rains, the storm drains here back up, sending untreated sewage into buildings and homes.
In September 2002, an unprecedented downpour, combined with Atlanta’s antiquated sewer system, flooded Vine City with several feet of polluted water. Some stranded residents were forced to swim through the sewage-tainted water to reach safety. Seventy homes and businesses had to be removed after the 2002 flooding. Today, Proctor Creek has 29 EPA-documented hotspots—localized areas with high levels of pollution—and does not meet state-mandated water quality requirements.
Our Efforts: A Comprehensive Approach To Conservation
The Fund’s unique approach to conservation is based on our understanding that for conservation solutions to last, they need to benefit the community. We’ve partnered with the city, The Arthur M. Blank Foundation, The Waterfall Foundation and Park Pride, a citywide nonprofit organization, to implement a comprehensive acquisition and restoration plan for these neighborhoods. The goals of this plan include more than increasing green space; with proper planning, new green space can bring economic development, improved water quality, flood mitigation and improved public health and quality of life.
First Park For English Avenue Neighborhood
In 2015, we’ll establish the first park in the English Avenue neighborhood, on behalf of the city, near the Lindsay Street Baptist Church. The Fund worked for 18 months to piece together vacant and abandoned lots in the neighborhood at the intersection of Lindsay Street and North Avenue. Each acquisition was beset with challenges from the start: Liens, back taxes and title issues are common in urban areas, and are especially prevalent in areas hard hit by bankruptcy, foreclosure and crime, like English Avenue and VineCity. However, Fund staff members have the necessary real estate experience to make these complex transactions possible, and we were able to purchase more than four lots that together will make up the park.
Once the park is protected, cleaned up and restored, we aim to transfer the land to the city. Because the park includes a tributary to Proctor Creek, we have a unique opportunity to revitalize a community block and work with residents and partners to create a new space for environmental education, gardening, workforce training and stormwater control.
Engaging Community Members
Our Resourceful Communities Program (RCP), is a community-based program started in North Carolina that specializes in a triple bottom line approach to land conservation, addressing social, economic and environmental issues. RCP staff has hosted a series of workshops for residents in the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods, focusing on both the larger issues faced by this community, as well as their vision for this specific project. These ongoing workshops are critical for engaging community members in the planning for a new type of green space in their neighborhoods. In addition to facilitation these community discussions, RCP continues to provide
Engaging Community Leaders
The Fund offers community and government leaders training in various areas of community development and planning. In Atlanta, we hosted representatives from agencies and partner organizations on site visits of successful green infrastructure efforts in other urban areas. In May 2012, Fund staff accompanied and sponsored several community leaders on a trip to Milwaukee to see completed green infrastructure projects. The Fund’s Greenseams program in Milwaukee was initiated to deal with stormwater management but these projects also have addressed the more comprehensive needs of lower-income communities, addressing social and economic concerns as well as environmental issues.
In November 2012, the Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network planned and sponsored a visit to Philadelphia, a national model on green infrastructure planning and implementation, for representatives from several Atlanta agencies and groups. The goal was to see see firsthand the success of Philadelphia’s adoption of innovative green infrastructure approaches to address stormwater flooding and combined sewer overflows. Participants worked to create a Green Infrastructure Task Force that focuses on implementing some of these best management practices for current and planned infrastructure projects in Atlanta.
A team from this task force, including representatives from the city’s Department of Watershed Management, the Atlanta Beltline, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and The Conservation Fund, presented at the U.S. Water Alliance’s One Water Leadership Summit in Los Angeles in September 2013, discussing some of the early accomplishments and catalysts for a green infrastructure approach within Atlanta. While in Los Angeles, the Fund organized for the Atlanta team to visit green infrastructure demonstration sites developed by our partner Amigos de los Rios.
Meet our park recruits participating through the Greening Youth Foundation:
Dominique Bryant, 21 years old, grew up in the Vine City area of Atlanta and currently lives in English Avenue. His goal is to become a construction worker. He is currently enrolled in an adult education program working towards his diploma, while in the Atlanta Youth Corps (AYC) program. AYC is his first employment opportunity. Dominique has 4 siblings and strives to be a positive influence for them, as well as his 1-year old son.
Mackenzie Bass, 25 years old, grew up in English Avenue and currently lives in Vine City. Mackenzie is a very determined young man, striving to do great things with his life. At a young age, he faced many challenges, but he is now on the right track and has earned his GED, a certification in carpentry and completed the YouthBuild program. In addition to being in the Atlanta Youth Corps, he is currently enrolled in a construction management certification program at Atlanta Technical College.
Quentin Furlow, 23 years old, grew up in Americus, Georgia until the age of 14, when he moved to the English Avenue community, where he currently resides. Quentin is the youngest of four children and was primarily raised by his older sister and step-father after his mother passed away when he was 14 years old. He is currently working on his high school diploma while in the Atlanta Youth Corps program and aspires to join the military. He has previously worked on the Fort McPherson army base.
Roderick Waddell, 24 years old, grew up in the west Atlanta neighborhoods of Bankhead and English Avenue and currently resides in Vine City. He was primarily raised by his grandmother until she died when he was 12 years old. He has been on his own since he was 13. Roderick faced many challenges in his young life, but he is now focused on creating a positive future, wanting to become successful and settle down with a family of his own. He is working on the completion of his high school diploma while in Atlanta Youth Corps.
Want To Work With Us?
The Fund is uniquely positioned to provide expertise in conservation services that include complex real estate transactions, land assessment and planning and community engagement. Our experience in the Proctor North Avenue area makes us an ideal partner for revitalization efforts across the city and in other urban areas. Please contact Stacy Funderburke for information about how we can help your organization fulfill its goals.