Staying Rooted in Atlanta’s West Side

For years, writers documenting Atlanta’s west side Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods have referred to the area’s history as “complicated.” To longtime residents, that’s a laughable understatement. What was once a thriving middle-class African-American neighborhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s first gave way to increased disparity through socially- and economically-driven race riots, then eventually conditions-driven crime and boarded-up houses and businesses by the 1970’s.

In the early 1990’s, when the Georgia Dome was under construction, Atlanta’s city council promised to rebuild homes and provide job training to those living in the Dome’s shadow. Those promises famously fell flat due to corruption, waste, bureaucracy. By 2013, only 40 percent of area residents were employed, 37 percent of the area’s housing was vacant, and more than 50 percent of families with children in the area lived below the poverty line.

To make matters worse, the area was regularly overwhelmed for decades by heavy rains, unleashing a deluge of water, trash, sediment and even sewage on residents’ homes and businesses. After the most recent flood event in 2002, many homeowners were forced to relocate, leaving an already vulnerable area with more abandoned spaces.

By 2010, area residents, community organizations, and many city leaders had had enough. They knew they couldn’t fix decades of decline and false promises, but an idea emerged: Could solving a historical flooding problem in these neighborhoods with new green infrastructure help spark a revival?

In December 2011, Park Pride, a greenspace advocacy group, and others, proposed a network of streams and ponds – covered up for a century – that would be re-exposed and linked by 200 acres of parkland and trails. In 2015, cleanup began as a step towards overhauling what would eventually be called Rodney Cook Sr. Park in the shadow of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In 2017, it was announced that the park’s construction would commence and include monuments of a number of prominent Atlantans and Civil Rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Booker T. Washington.

Invest Atlanta, The Trust for Public Land, and the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, amongst others, initially partnered to provide $30 million+ in seed money to help with the project and to revitalize the two neighborhoods. Today, the $45 million, 16-acre park project—a partnership between the City of Atlanta, nonprofits, foundations and community stakeholders—are creating a vital social, cultural, and recreational space for the neighborhood’s residents, with picnic areas, playgrounds, sports courts and a natural amphitheater. It will also include a retention and drainage pond to channel stormwater away from the neighborhood’s streets and homes.

The park as a demonstration of placemaking represents a new approach to urban redevelopment – bringing a number of unusual partner organizations together to solve environmental and community development challenges with neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment, disenfranchisement and displacement.

EcoDistricts Summit 2017 Studio Sessions

The best way to understand a project like the Rodney Cook Sr. Park is to experience it for yourself. This project is the focus of one of our nine EcoDistricts Summit 2017 Studio sessions where you’ll see what’s happening now, learn more about what inspired the park, and collaborate on strategies to ensure the park’s success can be replicated everywhere. In the Studio session you will:

Hear from Changemakers

People behind the park, including Darryl Haddock and Na’Taki Osborne Jelks from the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, will paint a data-driven picture of the neighborhood’s history and the impact of the watershed on its residents. Jay Wozniak from The Trust for Public Land and Andrew White from Park Pride will tell the story of their organizations’ involvement and the design challenges they’ve encountered.

See the Site

We’ll take a bus tour of the area and see how the site connects to and impacts adjacent neighborhoods. You’ll get an up-close look at the project’s challenges and a clear vision of its aspiration as not only a mitigation plan for stormwater, but also a valuable social connection point and revitalization effort for the surrounding community.

Tackle Challenges Together

You’ll dive deep and learn how partner organizations and funders can set local organizations up for success. You’ll also address the tough questions: How can the neighborhood keep the momentum going? How can we cultivate ongoing funding for follow-on infrastructure projects? How can we find innovative ways to involve community members in not just responding to the project plans, but actively participating in the project development?

Be Part of the Change

The EcoDistricts Summit 2017 aims to make a lasting impact on the neighborhoods of Atlanta by bringing attendees, organizations, and community representatives together to work inclusively toward neighborhoods for all. Each session is led by experienced facilitators and speakers, and attendees will learn about unique challenges and opportunities facing neighborhoods, tour the Atlanta community, and design real solutions to advance neighborhood equity, sustainability, and resilience.

When you join us, you’ll feel the power of this work while joining local community leaders and national experts who are using the lens of sustainability for bold projects that are true models of sustainable and equitable revitalization – in Atlanta and beyond.

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