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As Development Devours Greenery, 'Park Scores' Could be Key

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With a surge of intown development in the last few years, many have praised the densification and urbanization of the Big Peach, or have at least awarded golf claps to its baby steps. Transit-oriented developments have become all the rage, as mixed-use centers spring up or are proposed along MARTA lines. But in an article in the Saporta Report, the question is posed of how, as the city grows denser, can we enhance access to parks, even as trends point toward developing land? Could the answer be so-called park-oriented development? The seemingly incongruous ideas of allotting space for development and creating more park space, the website posits, have to be addressed as more people forgo suburban sprawl in favor of the urban jungle. But it's more complex than that.

By now we're all familiar with the concept of the Walk Score. On a scale of 0 (Forsyth County) to 100 (Midtown, above a restaurant and next door to Publix), the scores tell you pretty quickly how easy it is to walk to important things in a neighborhood like bars, restaurants, bars, shopping and bars.

With emphasis on developing inner-city neighborhoods and building mixed-use centers in the suburbs, many places in Atlanta now have decent Walk Scores. But what if we started doing the same for parks, assigning a "Park Score" to every location in the city? A novel idea, right? The Saporta Report spoke with Peter Harnick, director of the Center for City Park Excellence for the Trust for Public Land, who is a major proponent of the concept. Basically, it demonstrates how many people in a given urban area live within a 10-minute walk of a park — which is unfortunately farther than some/many Atlantans would find walkable.

Not surprisingly, throughout the country, the numbers are pretty startling. According to Harnick, using the metric of a 10-minute walk, somewhere between 90 million and 111 million people don't have easy access to park space — a number far higher than the number of people not within a 10-minute drive of McDonalds. And people wonder why America is obese... Unfortunately, those numbers relate to socioeconomics and other inequitable distributions of access (to transit, to food, etc.) that are all-too prevalent.

For what it's worth, Atlanta is doing a pretty good job bolstering Park Scores. New parks are popping up and old ones are being cleaned up, especially near the Beltline. While in established neighborhoods, there may not be space to add new parks — from developed suburbs lacking park space to the choked streets of Buckhead — grassroots efforts, private interests and the government are working to build quite an impressive series of paths and nature trails. Not full-fledge parks, per se, but they still allow people to more easily access open space and nature and provide safe pedestrian passage to parks. So maybe Atlanta's not so bad after all. But as a city in a forest, perhaps we could do a better job of embracing what we naturally have.

· Parks can ignite growth in cities [Saporta Report]
· Midtown's Next Tower Unveiling Could Come Very Soon [Curbed Atlanta]
· Does MARTA Have a Cure for Atlanta's Mixed-Use Fever? [Curbed Atlanta]
· Momentum Builds for 'Atlanta Waterworks Park' Vision [Curbed Atlanta]
· Proposed Trail Could Connect North Side to Buckhead, Beltline [Curbed Atlanta]