Each of us needs a place to play. Every city likes its parks, but space per capita in Atlanta is well below the national average. Yet if you provide ground where the people are — where the parks are needed — the land acquisition cost is often prohibitive.

The community of Buckhead is proud of its open spaces, and the Buckhead Coalition civic group catalogs them in its annual Guidebook. Although it’s not universally known, the largest and second-largest parks in Atlanta — Chastain at 320 acres and Memorial at 199 acres — are in Buckhead.

In this north Atlanta area there are more than five dozen park sites with a total of almost 1,000 acres. They offer 42 tennis courts, 36 golf holes, 13 ball fields and many more amenities.

Buckhead’s population continues to increase, so this by itself dictates a need for new parks. Add the fact that the new phenomenon in its density is “high-rise multifamily,” and this reminds us that many of the new residents no longer have the luxury of private yards for outdoor life. This growth, however, is the very factor increasing the cost for land to convert to parks.

Let’s be creative and think above the street level. It doesn’t surprise us to find a private roof garden or swimming pool high above our heads on top of a condo building. The Lenox Road Marriott Conference Center formerly housed indoor tennis courts on its fifth floor, and now comes the Mezzo apartment building on Peachtree with an upper-floor indoor dog park.

This brings us to the idea of vertical parks. You reduce the land cost per square foot dramatically and can place them convenient to pedestrian access.

This concept interested the Buckhead Coalition in sponsoring an international competition through the auspices of Park Pride, attracting entries from students in 30 schools in four countries. The challenge was to take a specific half-acre lot and design on it a 2½-acre park — a 400 percent increase.

I have long been a proponent of park development in urban settings and should point out that the cost can eventually be offset by the increased tax revenue from nearby private developments that increase in value as a result.

I had the honor of serving as mayor of this city back in the 1970s, at which time we provided a number of pocket parks, including the triangles at Peachtree and Roswell in Buckhead and Peachtree and West Peachtree downtown, plus others. It was also my pleasure to plan and build the Woodruff Central City Park at Five Points.

Although not everyone agrees with my philosophy, I also directed that the “Keep Off the Grass” signs be removed from the city’s parks, for I welcomed one and all to walk and run on the grounds. I also stocked the Piedmont Park lake for children and seniors for fishing.

We are now at the next stage, where we need to supplement the city’s budget with private efforts to offer public playgrounds. One way to operate a public/private partnership might be with this idea of vertical development, so we can have our fun in the sun in an urban setting, but above the noise and traffic below.

-Sam Massell
President, Buckhead Coalition