November 2, 2015|By Shannon Lee
I grew up in Cabbagetown, a historic inner-city neighborhood situated 1.5 miles east of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. During the 1980s my neighborhood was poor, under-resourced, neglected and lacked green space, leaving its residents disconnected from the natural environment.

The only real natural areas we had were the overgrown, vacant lots where demolished homes were replaced by kudzu alleyways ripe for adventure. There was also an abandoned elementary school in the middle of the neighborhood, directly across from my house. For a while, it was used as a community center, but mostly it was just left empty. Out back, there was a dirt field, but it had so much broken glass you dare not ride your bike across the yard. Not exactly a great place to play.

ShannonLeeBlog withcatMe, my cat, and the view of the abandoned school from my parents’ back porch in 1982.  Photo courtesy Shannon Lee.

During the past few years, many changes have come to Cabbagetown. Houses have been restored, vacant lots have been filled and new neighbors have moved in. While many factors have helped to revitalize this historic neighborhood, I believe one of the most important was the 3-acre park built in 2003 by the City of Atlanta on the site of that old elementary school. That space is now the heart of the community—filled with people, kids, and dogs all coming together around a shared space. I’m lucky enough that my parents still live in Cabbagetown and my own kids get to enjoy this beautiful park almost every weekend. 

ShannonLeeBlog parkviewNow my parents’ house has a great view of Cabbagetown Park. Photo courtesy Shannon Lee.

I have seen firsthand the positive impact this park has had on the community. New businesses have sprung up across from the park and the annual Chomp and Stomp Chili Cook-off attracts more than 20,000 visitors and raises thousands of dollars for the neighborhood.

Small city parks can make a big difference. Most people think my job involves protecting large tracts of land for wildlife; but the Fund does more than that. Through our Parks with Purpose program, we help restore our inner city neighborhoods, by building parks that protect our environment and reconnect us to nature, while also supporting the local economy and the residents who call these communities home.

On October 21, 2015, our first Park with Purpose in Atlanta was officially opened! Lindsay Street Park is the first for the English Avenue neighborhood, but it’s more than just a new greenspace. It provides a safe place for kids to play and neighbors to gather, and focuses on environmental, economic and social justice outcomes as well. This park was envisioned, planned, and designed through a process to ensure residents led the way.

LindsayStreet before WFLindsay-Street-Park-Ribbon-Cutting c Whitney-Flanagan 007Before crews got to work creating Lindsay Street Park, it was an overgrown lot filled with weeds and trash. Now, it is a clean, open space for people to play and gather. Photos by Whitney Flanagan/The Conservation Fund.

Lindsay-Street-WF-blogA young community member added her sign stating why Lindsay Street Park has purpose for her. Photo by Whitney Flanagan/The Conservation Fund.

Situated about 1.5 miles west of downtown Atlanta, English Avenue and the adjacent Vine City community are similar to Cabbagetown in the 1980s. These neighborhoods suffer from extreme poverty rates, high unemployment, the highest crime rates in the city and a vacancy rate of nearly 50%. Stormwater flooding is also a significant problem and during heavy rains the combined sewer overflow system dumps raw sewage into the community.

The Conservation Fund collaborated with residents and numerous non-profits, and also received outstanding support from corporations such as U-Haul, to create this new park to address many of the challenges faced in this community. Our local partner Park Pride, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that empowers communities to improve their parks, worked with the residents to create a broad visioning plan, emphasizing use of natural greenspaces to reduce stormwater flooding in the community. Water from the adjacent street is being collected in a series of large raingardens, helping to absorb and clean the water before it reaches the stream that runs across the property.

Lindsay-Street-Park-Ribbon-Cutting c Whitney-Flanagan 037Community members helping to water Lindsay Street Park’s newly planted gardens. Photo by Whitney Flanagan/The Conservation Fund.

In addition to the environmental benefits, community members strongly voiced the need for economic development. Through a partnership with Greening Youth Foundation, we have trained and employed four young adults from the community during the construction of the new park, expanding their skill sets and increasing their employment opportunities.

Lindsay Street Park is small in size at only 1.5 acres, but it’s already providing tremendous impact for its community. And we’re not stopping now! We’re already hard at work on our second Parks with Purpose project at Vine City Park, where an existing park is being expanded using the same community crew that built Lindsay Street Park.

Nothing has made me more proud during my time with The Conservation Fund than working to reimagine and revitalize the inner city communities in my hometown of Atlanta.