Feb 11, 2022 - News

Atlanta schoolyards can moonlight as neighborhood parks

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

For years, Atlanta's been trying (and making strides) to improve its reputation as an under-parked city.

Driving the news: A largely overlooked program that takes buying land out of the equation is helping.

  • Under a program operated by the Trust for Public Land's Georgia chapter, Park Pride and Atlanta Public Schools, some communities are getting the OK to take advantage of school playgrounds and athletic areas when not in use by students.

Why it matters: Nearly 30% of Atlanta residents live more than a 10-minute walk from a park, according to TPL.

  • In dense neighborhoods or communities that have historically seen little investment, opening access to the broader community connects people to nature, exercise and play and adds space where neighbors can gather and socialize.

Details: Launched in 2019, the Community Schoolyards program seems like common sense: If issues around safety, maintenance and security can be overcome, why not make playgrounds available to residents when they’re not being used by students?

  • Park Pride and TPL help students reimagine their recreational areas to be more accessible for the community, including adding structures, play equipment and ADA walkways.

Ten schools are participating, and each receives $200,000 in improvements when you add up design, construction and other costs. The first two, Dobbs Elementary and L.O. Kimberly in southwest Atlanta, recently unveiled their new playscapes.

The outcome: At Dobbs Elementary in Lakewood Heights, TPL says, the students suggested expanding the playground and adding a pollinator garden, three new trellises equipped with benches and a dozen shade trees.

What we’re watching: Other schools in the program include Sarah Smith Elementary in Buckhead; Centennial Academy near Georgia Tech; and Miles Elementary in west Atlanta.

  • Policies vary county by county, but TPL is looking to expand the program in metro Atlanta.

The big picture: Buying property, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods or during cash-strapped budget years, can be a hurdle for park projects. Schools have the land and the location.

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