By John Schaffner

In 2001, Parks Atlanta Rescue Coalition (PARC) came up with the “Parks 911 Agenda” after Atlanta was listed as having the smallest percentage of its land dedicated to parks among the nation’s 25 largest cities. The city is improving, though it’s still at the bottom of the 25 cities in terms of parkland.

But after several years of better management and increased funding, Atlanta’s parks budget is again on the chopping block, cut by more than $1.4 million (11 percent) this year, said Sally Morgens, a member of the boards of both Park Pride and Neighborhood Planning Unit A (NPU-A).

Addressing the board of NPU-B on May 5, Morgens recounted how a broad coalition of green space advocates, community leaders and environmental groups came together in 2001 to save Atlanta’s parks through PARC, galvanizing public opinion and improving the city’s parks and quality of life.

She said the coalition’s work remains unfinished, “and its achievements are now threatened by political ambivalence in difficult economic times.”

For 2009, PARC has reunited to Act to Save Atlanta’s Parks (ASAP), a program it says embraces three steps that will “provide our parks, natural areas, trails, greenways and public spaces the permanent support they need to thrive, meet the needs of our people and create a great city,” according to a handout Morgens distributed to the NPU-B board.

The three steps of the ASAP program:

• Ensure the quality of Atlanta’s park system by dedicating 1 mil of existing property taxes to the operation and maintenance of parks by 2012.

• Establish by 2013 dedicated funding for land acquisition and park development so that Atlanta’s parkland no longer ranks last among the nation’s 25 largest cities.

• Take concrete steps to make Atlanta’s parks safer by 2010.

Dedicating 1 mil of tax revenues for park operations and maintenance would be a big boost from the $11.4 million (equivalent to 0.57 mils) passed in the initial fiscal 2009 budget.

In 2001, Atlanta’s city administration endorsed the PARC 911 agenda, calling for tripling the number of park acres per resident. Atlanta then had 7.6 acres per 1,000 residents. It has added 1,000 acres of parks and green space, as well as nearly 100,000 residents, according to PARC’s figures.

“The net result is that Atlanta currently has 7.7 acres per 1,000 residents, about half the national average,” the PARC flier reads.

Among the 25 largest cities, none has a smaller percent of its land dedicated to parks and green space (4.7 percent).

In order to make parks safer, PARC says Atlanta should:

• Provide subsidized housing to police officers adjacent to parks in exchange for the officers spending one hour a day in their respective parks.

• Dedicate a certain percentage of any new police hires to monitor parks through a park ranger or similar program.

• Install structural safety equipment, such as security cameras and increased lighting, in the parks.

• Increase structured and unstructured activities in parks, especially for children.

“The biggest shortcoming to park safety efforts is the absence of a clearly identified authority figure in the park,” PARC says. More than 90 percent of the time, the organization reports, no public official — either public safety or park employee — is in any given park.

Morgens said the city needs to secure a significant, dedicated funding source that will allow Atlanta to expand its park system while improving current facilities.