The power of parks

March 7, 2023


By Matthew Dewald

Expansive wetlands make Constitution Lakes Park near Atlanta an inviting stopover for migratory birds piloting their seasonal change of scenery. Open, outdoor space was also just what Rachel Maher, ’07, needed at the height of the pandemic. She couldn’t meet up with friends at restaurants, but they could take a walk in a park, something she did often.

Parks are both a personal and professional interest for Maher. She is director of communications and policy for a nonprofit called Park Pride, which champions small parks and the communities they serve. The organization works with more than 100 Friends of the Park groups in the Atlanta area, providing resources for neighborhoods that want to improve their local parks.

“A lot of the larger parks have dedicated park conservancies,” she said. “One of the ways that we think about Park Pride is as a park conservancy for the rest of the parks.”

Interest in the quality of green spaces in the Atlanta area is strong right now, she said. During the pandemic, visitor rates at public parks soared and reminded many people of their value to communities. At the same time, some of these same people saw a need for better upkeep and more community involvement in the parks they visited. Green spaces also have the attention of Andre Dickens, Atlanta’s mayor, who formed a green space advisory council that includes 13 nonprofits. Maher is the group’s facilitator as it provides the mayor’s office with input and guidance, elevates issues, and helps shape the implementation of Atlanta’s 10-year master plan for parks and recreation adopted in 2021.

“We have never had this kind of momentum, and we’ve never worked this closely with our partners or the mayor’s team before” she said. “Everybody’s very optimistic about the future of Atlanta’s parks. It’s a really good time to be doing the work that I’m doing.”