English Avenue’s Boone Park West won’t be just another pretty greenspace
When you’re trying to create parks in places like English Avenue and Vine City they need to be about more than just parks’
On a busy but run-down block in English Avenue, in view of way too many houses that have plywood or shards of glass where windows should be, and where trash invades some of the sidewalks, one bright green site stands out.
“They going to build condos there?” said a passerby who gave his name as J.J., peering through a chain link fence on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard onto a fresh-mown lot sloping gently away from the street and toward trees.
When told it’s going to be a park, he said, “that’ll be good for the kids.”
But the people putting Boone Park West together hope it will be good for more than just kids. Sure, it’ll be a place to play and relax. But it should also help relieve flooding and help some young residents build their resumes.
“My big takeaway is that when you’re trying to create parks in places like English Avenue and Vine City they need to be about more than just parks,” said Michael Halicki, executive director of Park Pride, a nonprofit that aims to help Atlanta communities develop and get the most of out of their greenspaces.
The spot Halicki’s talking about would be a 4.5-acre park on several vacant lots the city is putting together on the block between Joseph E. Boone and Joseph E. Lowery boulevards and Proctor and Oliver streets.
English Avenue and Vine City rank high on the measures where it’s better to rank low: high poverty, high unemployment, high numbers of abandoned houses. In addition, the two neighborhoods just west of Northside Drive have low-lying areas throughout that tend to flood in heavy rains.
“Boone Park West is part of our larger ‘Parks with Purpose’ initiative,” said Shannon Lee, the Georgia and Tennessee state associate of The Conservation Fund, one of several organizations, including the City of Atlanta and Park Pride, working to fund and build the park and others like it, including the new Lindsay Street Park. “That means that not only are we trying to add a new park, but we’re trying to layer benefits for local communities.”
First, take the low spots. It’s in those low spots where a lot of the homes have problems with flooding, mold, followed in a lot of cases by abandonment, said Lee. “So if we can put parks and greenspaces in those areas, that could provide opportunities for new homes to be built around those spaces instead of on top of them,” she said.
There used to be apartments that had flooding issues on the site of Boone Park West, said Halicki. The city since acquired the land and knocked down the buildings.
The finished park will look like any other, with paths, trees, flowers, and benches. But like Lindsay Street Park, it will feature landscaping that will absorb and filter stormwater that could otherwise cause flooding. (Boone Park West is one of several builds in a larger Proctor Creek North Avenue Green Infrastructure Vision, a Park Pride proposal that The Conservation Fund also supports, to bring greenspace and stormwater fixes to the neighborhoods.)
There’s a draft map of Boone Park West, but it’s only a rough idea until Park Pride and the other partners hold community meetings to determine what should be built there.
The Greening Youth Foundation will partner on Boone Park West in about the same way it did at Lindsay Street, said Atiba Jones, the program manager for GYF’s Atlanta Youth Corps Program. For that greenspace, GYF recruited a crew from the neighborhood and trained them for several weeks at its Urban Conservation Training Institute in both “hard” and “soft” skills — for example, light construction and financial literacy. Then the crew went to work building the park, their resumes, and their earning power. (Atlanta Youth Corps training is for people aged 17 to 24. Check out their website or Facebook page to find out more information.)
The job training, and the better income that comes with skilled work, is meant to help people be able to pay bills today, sure. But it’s also meant to help make sure trainees who want to stay in the neighborhood can afford it if — or rather when — gentrification begins to drive up rents and house prices.
“So we feel like by trying to layer in environmental education and workforce training that we can help support the residents who want to stay in their neighborhoods,” Lee said.
As for getting shovels in the ground, Halicki said he’s looking for major construction on Boone Park West to be finished by late next year. Fundraising is still underway. Last week, at the meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in Atlanta, Park Pride, The Conservation Fund and other partners announced a “commitment to action” on the park. That’s a way to draw a little more attention, a little more urgency, and possibly a little more money, to the project.