How land becomes an Atlanta park

Director of park design Alvin Dodson explains the step-by-step process

Step 1: Identification
Every year, the city turns about 60 acres into parkland, either adding it to an existing park or creating a new one altogether—like Boulevard Crossing Park, whose first phase opened on the Atlanta BeltLine in 2011. Often, the city’s Parks Department sniffs out available acreage in areas that lack parks, though sometimes developers or private citizens donate land (it’s often a tax write-off) or submit an offer to sell property. “A lot of parkland couldn’t have been developed anyway,” says Alvin Dodson, director of park design for the City of Atlanta. “Either it’s in a floodplain, or the topography is too crazy.”

Step 2: Vetting
Not every parcel is worth the hassle. Some are too expensive, while others would cost too much to clean up or clear out. Ultimately, the land must offer the park system three things: accessibility, connectivity, and a good location. In 2012, the city found a piece of land that met these criteria and added it to Chosewood Park in southeast Atlanta.

Step 3: Purchasing
Often, the city enters into an agreement with a nonprofit group, such as the Trust for Public Land, which quickly purchases and holds the land for the Parks Department before developers can snatch it up. This gives the department time to seek the approval of the city council, as well as come up with the money for the acquisition.

Step 4: Engagement
For up to 18 months, depending on the project’s scope, parks officials host a series of community-visioning public meetings to determine what neighbors want. Then, the city asks architects and engineers to design a concept.

Step 5: Implementation
After the design phase, “Coming Soon” signs with conceptual drawings are staked around the land, informing neighbors that work is underway and building buzz. Time lines hinge on the project’s complexity. The process can take as little as a few weeks for a small, decorative green space or up to several years for a project like Historic Fourth Ward Park.

Step 6: Opening
Once the park is complete, public frolicking can begin—or resume. “A lot of times,” Dodson says, “people come play before we actually do a ribbon-cutting.”

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