Why is the City of Atlanta's Office of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs on the budget chopping block once again, facing a proposed 14-percent decrease in funding for services, despite the many proven benefits of a well-maintained park system?
Adequate park maintenance makes the city safer by providing spaces for positive activities to occur. The proposed cuts mean more graffiti, more trash and more weeds, amounting to public spaces that don't feel safe and that diminish our sense of pride in Atlanta. Poorly maintained parks are more likely to harbor criminal activity and drive residents away, increasing the cost to public safety.
Parks also have significant benefits to our health. People with access to well-maintained parks exercise more, helping to reduce obesity and related health problems. Georgia has the second-highest childhood obesity rate in the country, with nearly 40 percent of the state's children overweight or obese. Is now really the moment to disinvest in the places where children have free access to play and be active?
Parks increase tax revenue for the city by broadening the tax base. Centennial Olympic Park, Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Beltline are models for using safe, well-maintained parks to increase the tax digest and bolster long-term financial health. In a city facing a decline in its tax base, parks are a tool for generating revenue.
Mayor Reed has proven to be a strong supporter of Atlanta's parks. He supported the Constitutional amendment to support Beltline funding, endorsed Park Pride's Act to Save Atlanta's Parks and made significant investments in essential equipment for parks, resulting in increased productivity. But these are difficult times, and difficult budget decisions must be made.
The cuts to the Office of Parks in the mayor's proposed FY 2012 Budget leave the impression that the city is saving money when actually it's adding to its future debt burden. Even one year of neglect takes a significant investment of time and resources in the future to make up.
Cutting parks maintenance is regressive and diminishes significant investments already made by both the public and private sectors, not to mention the thousands of volunteer hours that residents invest in their parks to keep them safe and maintained. By making short-term cuts to parks, the city guarantees the need for increased investment in our parks in the future.
Atlanta is a city of mixed messages when it comes to parks. There is a call to action to increase the amount of parkland available to residents, to build the Beltline and to create a sustainable Atlanta. For a city that continues to rank in the bottom tier — 24th out of 25 — when compared to like-sized cities in the amount of parkland per resident, these are visionary and necessary calls to action. But if we want more and better parks, we must stop the cuts to the Office of Parks.
The mayor and City Council have until the end of June to solve many pressing budget issues. Now is NOT the time to cut the Office of Parks' budget. This is the moment to be forward-thinking and invest in building a great parks system AND maintaining it. Stop the cuts to the Office of Parks and protect the city's and its citizens' investments.
Margaret Connelly is Park Pride's Executive Director