Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

December 2019

TPL Looks to Schoolyards to Improve Park Access

By Dave Ramont

Creating parks and protecting land for people is the mission of the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL), and the organization continues to work toward its goal of having residents in every city and town live within a 10-minute walk of a park. One proven way to accomplish this is by transforming schoolyards and making them available during non-school hours to the general public. So far, TPL has worked in dozens of cities across the United States to make this happen.

And now, TPL—along with Urban Land Institute (ULI), Atlanta Park Pride and Atlanta Public Schools (APS)—has announced the Atlanta Community Schoolyards program pilot sites: John Wesley Dobbs Elementary and L.O. Kimberly Elementary. The pilot program seeks to provide more park space for Atlanta children when school is not in session. While improvements have been made, nearly 30% of Atlanta residents still don’t reside within a 10-minute walk of a park.

There are approximately 100,000 public schools across the country, and in most cities and towns, public school districts are among the largest landowners. But only around 10 percent of schools currently allow the general public to formally access their schoolyard play spaces.

Achieving equitable access to communities within a half-mile radius of the schools is a major consideration being addressed by the Atlanta Community Schoolyards program, and ULI Atlanta is studying the crosswalks, sidewalks and roads around the pilot schools, to make certain that the 10-minute walk is accessible and safe. TPL and Park Pride are managing the community engagement and planning that will be necessary to transform the schoolyards into public spaces, and a grant of $40,000 from TPL’s 10 Minute Walk Campaign will assist in supporting these efforts.

The Atlanta Community Schoolyards program is made possible by the support of the Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation. Corporate and philanthropic entities are also supporting the program: The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has contributed a $1 million grant over three years, and Delta Airlines is contributing $500,000 over three years, as well as being involved with planning and implementation.

The two schools were chosen as pilot sites for the program after the city’s most “park-poor” communities were identified using GIS data. Residents and schoolchildren from the surrounding communities will design and implement improvements, creating safe and accessible spaces for after-hours recreation. In all, 10 schools will participate in the pilot program, with construction beginning next summer.

Dr. Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of APS, said that since schools are a major part of neighborhoods in Atlanta, it’s fitting that the schoolyards and playgrounds at these two pilot schools—along with the eight others—will be made accessible to community members after school hours. “We are thrilled to be included in this partnership!”

According to George Dusenbury, Georgia state director for TPL, their experience transforming schoolyards across the country into parks—combined with local knowledge of their partner organizations—will ensure that Atlanta’s program will create safe and inviting spaces for everyone to enjoy. “We are thrilled to help hundreds of families within a 10-minute walk of these schools benefit from greater access to safe outdoor recreation areas.”

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