Apr 4, 2023 - News

Atlanta parks budget deserves more cash for upkeep

Illustration of a plant in the shape of an A with a stray branch that gets cut with hedge clippers.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Atlanta added nearly 270 acres of new parkland over the past year. An advocate for Atlanta’s parks says the city needs a solid budget to make sure this new land — and the more than 3,000 other acres of green space in Atlanta — lasts well into the future.

What's happening: Budget season is underway at City Hall. And the nonprofit Park Pride is urging city officials and the public to be thinking "maintenance, maintenance, maintenance."

Why it matters: No one holds a ribbon-cutting or press conference when a work crew trims tree branches or mows the lawn.

  • But you do notice when it hasn't been performed. Removing invasive plants isn't sexy, but it's vital.

State of play: Record visitor levels during the pandemic and labor shortages put an extra strain on stretched-thin maintenance crews.

  • Additional funding could hire more crews to chip away at the backlog of deferred maintenance that Atlanta's parks system needs.

By the numbers: Park Pride Executive Director Michael Halicki told Axios that 26% of the positions at the city's parks and recreation department are unfilled. 60% of those positions are unfunded.

Details: The department needs $2 million to fund and fill the vacant positions, Halicki said.

  • Doing so would bring the parks' maintenance department back to its pre-pandemic levels — which are not reflective of the system's present-day demands, notes Rachel Maher, the nonprofit's communications and policy director.

In the weeds: Atlanta's philanthropic community donates one out of every $5 spent on parks, Halicki said.

  • But givers don't expect to become a funding stream to pay for maintenance and expect the city will keep the parks in a state of good repair.

Zoom out: Big-name parks in affluent areas like Midtown and Chastain Park have conservancies raising cash for their upkeep. Greenspaces on Atlanta's west side do not.

  • Making sure parks receive the same level of care is the first step toward making sure Atlanta's parks are more equitable. "The single thing that raises the floor for our parks is getting to the point that we're addressing adequate maintenance," Halicki said.

What's next: Starting next month, city officials will hear from council members, issue advocates, and the public about the upcoming spending plan.


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