ATLANTA—In October 2008, as the economy became a gray expanse of toxic rubble, this spot in the historic Fourth Ward was a gray expanse of toxic rubble. The neighborhood flooded often. Broken concrete and tainted soil buried ironically named Clear Creek. A hundred or so optimists gathered on a hot fall day and broke ground for a park. On March 27, many of the same people ate cake on the banks of a lake surrounded by green space. The Historic Fourth Ward Park (HFWP) solved the area’s flood problems and saved the city $26 million, according to city Councilman Kwanza Hall.
“It was a labor of love. I am so thankful. We are starting to change Atlanta in a way we never thought we would,” he said.
Hall had wanted to transform the area since he was first elected in 2005, he said. He could not even get the city to commit the money to draw a plan for the park. Then Mayor Shirley Franklin told him to “sit down and wait his turn,” he said. Building an ambitious 35-acre park with a two-acre lake in the center would seem to go against the trend of straitened government spending.
A day in Historic Fourth Ward Park
All photos by Mary Silver/The Epoch Times
The city had to solve its water problems. It was facing federal sanctions over its antiquated sewer system, which allowed storm water runoff and sewage to overflow into wetlands and streams. Atlanta engineers designed an underground tunnel system to deal with the Fourth Ward flooding. The system would have been costly.
An inspiration struck. “We really could not use U.S. watershed money for a park—not legal—what if a park solved water problems?” said Hall.
The city did not have to build the underground tunnels. The Trust For Public Land (TPL), an independent, private conservation group, made the park possible by buying the site for $17 million. TPL’s model is to preserve land for people by buying it so that governments can develop it into parks. “They took a huge risk,” said Markham Smith of Smith Dalia architectural firm.
The Historic Fourth Ward Conservancy, Park Pride, Astra Group, Smith Dalia architectural firm, Atlanta city agencies, and the City Council all worked together to design, raise money for, and build the lake and park in a “perfect example of the spirit of cooperation,” said Sarah Yates Sullivan, president of Park Pride.
The park is designed to protect the neighborhood from a hundred-year or even a five-hundred-year flood. Along the high stone walls at the western side of the park, lines of different colored stone mark the depths such floods would reach. A FAQ sheet of the HFWP understatedly advises residents not to use the park during such a flood, as the walkways would be submerged.The project is part of the Atlanta Beltline, a project meant to transform the city over a generation. It will create a linked circle of parks, all accessible by trails, public transportation, or bike paths. Atlanta needs parks badly. It is 24th among the 25 largest U.S. cities in park space, said Fred Yalouris of Atlanta Beltline, Inc. “This is the 47th park I’ve been responsible for the design and construction of,” he said. “This is the best.”
New apartments and new businesses have already sprung up around the edge of the park. Atlanta’s first official public skate park is under construction on the southern end of the land.
Clear Creek is free again. Its springs feed the lake, and its water reaches the sunlight.