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Atlanta park opens in honor of 92-year-old neighborhood matriarch killed by police

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Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park in English Avenue is designed to help solve chronic flooding, too

A rendering of a large green park with playgrounds and walkways.
An aerial rendering view of the broader park design, now finished.
Park design by HGOR, rendering via The Conservation Fund

Thirteen years to the day after Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old English Avenue resident known to many as “Mother,” was killed inside her home as part of a botched, illegal Atlanta Police Department drug raid, a functional green space was officially opened that aims to keep her memory alive forever.

Following months of community engagement and a groundbreaking in summer 2018, city leaders joined neighborhood representatives and other officials Thursday for a ribbon cutting at the newly christened Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park, just a block from Johnston’s former Neal Street home.

Replacing a vacant lot along Joseph E. Boone Boulevard at Proctor Street, just west of downtown, the park was designed to help mitigate flooding that’s decimated homes in Vine City and English Avenue over the years. It’s capable of managing up to 3.5 million gallons of stormwater annually, capturing street runoff and rerouting it to a series of underground chambers, stormwater swales, and rain gardens, according to Park Pride officials.

New playground equipment at a park named for famous Kathryn Johnston.
A climbable new park component.
Courtesy of Park Pride

It’s the third in a series of stormwater-capturing parks proposed as part of the Proctor Creek North Avenue Green Infrastructure Vision, and officials this week extolled its potential—with open green spaces and elaborate playground equipment—to become the communal heart of English Avenue. In addition to being a physical homage to Johnston.

Atlanta police officers executed a no-knock warrant on Johnston’s home the night of November 21, 2006 and opened fire when she tried to defend herself, later planting drugs in an effort to defend their actions. Three officers were later convicted and sentenced to jail terms.

The ordeal resulted in the repeal of a law that allowed for the arrest of citizens without probable cause.

Johnston’s sacrifice, as officials noted this week, “will be memorialized within Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park and will serve as a constant reminder of the ongoing efforts to ensure that Atlantans not only remember her contributions to her community, but also continue to work toward the prevention of future tragedies.”

A group of people holding oversized scissors at a park ribbon cutting.
Project leaders and neighborhood representatives at this week’s ribbon cutting.
Courtesy of Park Pride

The new green space isn’t far from spruced-up Vine City Park, which replaced abandoned and blighted apartments in 2016. It’s also about six blocks west of the forthcoming Rodney Cook Sr. Park—Vine City’s answer to Historic Fourth Ward Park.

Trust for Public Land officials recently told Curbed Atlanta the latter green space should start opening this winter. Plans call for a splash pad, fitness zone, plazas, children’s performance area, architectural bridges, and a stormwater-capturing pond.

A rendering showing a huge public park with the skyline of Atlanta in the background.
The vision for under-construction Rodney Cook Sr. Park.
Trust For Public Land