As springtime draws nearer, many of us are itching to get outdoors. For many metro Atlantans, that means heading to the nearest park.

And in our green-canopied region, it’s easy to take parks for granted. But let’s move beyond the swing-sets and walking paths for a moment—and consider how parks can help create a sense of place, foster community spirit, and improve quality of life.

Here are three innovative Atlanta parks – two fairly new, one set to open soon – that are helping reshape their communities.

The Power of Neighborhood Organizing

Tucked behind a commercial strip a few miles east of the Lindberg MARTA station, Lindridge Martin Manor is a close-knit family neighborhood. The one thing lacking: a park.

In 2017, the community began working to change that.

It started that year when the city acquired property at the end of a cul-de-sac that kept flooding. Today, that property comprises Armand Park, whose first phase, including a series of paths and retaining walls, was completed in 2018.

The park owes its success in large part to organizing and fundraising on the part of the neighborhood—which pulled together financial support from a wide variety of sources.

Armand Park has transformed the neighborhood, said Park Pride’s Allison Barnett.

“They took this vacant lot that was really an eyesore and created a neighborhood gathering space,” she said. “Even just months in, it’s already heavily utilized. There are a lot of kids. At the ribbon cutting, I mean, it was just a sea of strollers!”

Armand Park also forms a trailhead to South Fork Confluence Trail and the ambitious Confluence Bridge project. Phase two of the park, set to complete this month, will add more trails, a covered pavilion, and a rain garden.

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A Memorial Provides Much-Needed Flood Relief

Every time it rained, Proctor Street between Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard and Oliver Streets in the English Avenue neighborhood west of downtown Atlanta tended to flood. Badly. “After only about three-quarters of an inch of rain, there would be water up to your knees,” said Park Pride’s Teri Nye.

But after years of efforts on the part of local residents, Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park, set to open this summer, is designed to change that—using tools such as bioswales, rain gardens, and and a system that will detain stormwater in the park.

Park Pride, The Conservation Fund, and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper are working with construction firm Reeves Young—the company handling the Atlanta BeltLine East Side Trail Extension—to complete the park.

Community elbow grease is still in play too, as Greening Youth Foundation’s Urban Youth Corps has enlisted a group of young neighborhood residents for paid on-the-job training. The Urban Youth Corps members are assisting with everything from laying pipe to putting in the park’s green infrastructure, while getting soft-skill training in areas like resume-writing.

When it opens this summer, the new park will feature a network of walking trails and an open event space for community festivals. A new playground, shade shelter, and workout equipment are also in the works.

The park is located a few blocks from the home of its namesake, Kathryn Johnson, who was shot and killed by two Atlanta police officers who entered her home in 2006.

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A Park Worthy of Her Name

Before Sara J. González Memorial Park in Atlanta’s west side, no Georgia park had ever been named in honor of a Latino community member. And that’s one thing that makes this park interesting — but not the only thing.

Sara González, a Cuban immigrant who was an energetic pillar of the region’s Latino community, died in 2009, and the park formerly called Coronet Park was re-named for her later that year.

But then her daughter Isabel González Whitaker decided to step it up further.

“She wanted to make a park worthy of her mother,” said Park Pride’s Allison Barnett. For example: The taskforce González Whitaker put together noticed that while the neighborhood had a major Latino component, it lacked a convenient soccer field. With some creative landscaping, a fenced soccer field is now planned for the small park.

“We also noticed that there was often a guy there tutoring kids after school,” said Barnett. (The guy turned out to be not just any guy, but an educator named Teacher of the Year by the City of Atlanta.) “And he was just bringing a chair and using his laptop and using his phone for light.” Future plans for the park now include a “Learning Nook,” an outdoor classroom with lighting. Other touches include seating for a bus stop on one side of the park. Landscape architect Patrick Hand also added a walkway designed to look like a necklace for fashion-loving González, and a berm in the shape of Cuba, where she was born.

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What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.