By Sally Bethea
Like thousands of others in Atlanta, I love Piedmont Park. For the past forty years, I have lived within walking distance of this crown jewel in Atlanta’s park system.
One of the joys of my new semi-retirement is that I can spend more time walking or jogging around the park, usually in the active oval with its stunning view of Midtown Atlanta – but also along the shores of Lake Clara Meer and near the banks of Clear Creek.
It’s not just the fresh air, the grand trees and the lovely Olmstead views that bring me to Piedmont Park – it’s the people.
Like other places of “common ground,” this public park draws wondrous varieties of people: their activities, languages, costumes, sports, music, food and celebrations. The ever-changing tableau never fails to invigorate me.
My walks through the park also bring back memories: attending the Arts Festival there in the 1960s, cheering for my sons as they raced through the park in the Peachtree Junior in the early 90s, walking through the snow after my father died four years ago, and attending a glorious Indian wedding earlier this year.
The Boston Common, designated a public open space in 1634, is considered the nation’s first city park. But it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the vision for urban parks changed from natural settings and pleasure gardens to public areas that provide recreation in close-to-home neighborhood parks. Thus was born the notion of the public playground.
The first municipal park in the country equipped as a permanent playground was dedicated in the heart of New York City in 1903. A decade later, my maternal grandmother helped establish and then supervised the first public playground program in five parks in Norfolk, Virginia. Born in New York City in 1880 and trained there in physical education and social work, she believed that urban youth needed a safe place to play, exercise, learn games, and compete in a friendly atmosphere.
Sometimes, when I walk through Piedmont Park, I think about the grandmother I never knew and all the people who have advocated and helped pay for the greenspaces that mean so much to our daily lives.
Fortunately, we have nonprofit organizations that work with government agencies and community partners to sustain and protect our public parks and urban gardens. While the Piedmont Park Conservancy focuses on my neighborhood park, Park Pride works throughout the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County and provides grants of all sizes to fund park improvements.
The deadline for Park Pride’s community building and legacy grant applications is Oct. 26. For more information, see parkpride.org/get-involved/funding-your-park.
Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (chattahoochee.org), a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.