By Han Vance
Photographs by Michael Santini

It was unseasonably cold for Park Pride’s 12th annual Parks and Greenspace Conference held at Piedmont Park’s Atlanta Botanical Garden, but the frigid weather did not stop the local green advocates from attending in force. This year’s conference theme was a bit more general than those of the past few years: Activating Parks for Healthy Communities.

Director Margaret Connelly welcomed the attendees as we filled into the garden’s main hall and enjoyed hot coffee. Cox Enterprises / Cox Conserves was again the leading sponsor of the conference, and Jami Buck-Vance briefly explained the good her company continues to do for the environmental movement. Annika Holder (pictured right) of New York City Parks and Recreation shared her expertise, captivating the audience with a vivacious enthusiasm for an active park-centered lifestyle. NYC, as the home of Central Park, has long been known for the role parks can play in healthy urban lifestyles, and Atlanta is becoming more known for this internationally, primarily with the acclaim for the Atlanta BeltLine project.

Last year’s conference theme centered on the integration of parks and transportation. Though the loss of potential funding from the failed T-SPLOST and missteps in leadership cost the project some momentum, it was reinvigorating to walk the Eastside Trail with Atlanta BeltLine Director of Design E. Fred Yalouris and see the real progress being made in transforming our city.

Through panel discussions, it was shown that empirical statistical evidence has consistently proven through time that a healthy park system directly benefits a city in financial terms. Not only does an active community require less health care, development around good parks creates new property tax revenues. As Atlanta matures as a city, our park system can lead us to a healthier and wealthier future.