Case Study

Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Historic Vine City, Atlanta, USA

Sector: Built Environment; Water; Arts, Entertainment and Recreation
Highlights: Community wellbeing, community engagement, inclusivity, property protection, environmental justice
Project owner: City of Atlanta, Georgia
Project start: ​ 2016 – 2021
Location:  Atlanta, USA
Community impacted: Urban
Hazards mitigated: ​ Flooding
Number of people made more resilient: ​ 4,200
Case study provided by: Trust for Public Land

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After a devastating flood in downtown Atlanta, and through extensive community engagement efforts, Vine City residents articulated their priorities for future public spending on flood prevention. They identified Cook Park as one of nine areas to be transformed into a public green space that could double as stormwater management infrastructure, reducing the flood risk for nearby communities.

About the Project

Vine City, a residential neighbourhood just west of downtown Atlanta, has been plagued by a complex set of social and economic challenges, along with outdated infrastructure and severe flooding. In September 2002, Tropical Storm Hanna lashed the Southeast with heavy rainfall for days when a sudden cloudburst overwhelmed the sewer system in Vine City. The flood—a toxic mixture of stormwater and untreated sewage—damaged hundreds of homes, many beyond repair.

Vine City and nearby English Avenue have long been home to African-American academic, religious, political, and business luminaries. The area boasts four prominent historically black colleges and universities. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. lived there, alongside fellow civil rights leaders Julian Bond and Maynard Jackson. But despite its proud legacy, decades of disinvestment and inequality have resulted in a neighbourhood with some of the lowest incomes and highest crime rates in Atlanta.

In the aftermath of the 2002 flood, city leaders decided that the cost of rebuilding the damaged homes was too great—and the likelihood of future flooding too high to justify it. Residents were relocated and 60 properties were razed from that 16-acre flood-prone section of town.

Through dozens of community events, meetings, and in-depth conversations over 18 months, residents articulated their priorities for future public spending on flood prevention, identifying nine sites throughout the neighbourhood that could be transformed into public green space that could double as stormwater management infrastructure. Together, the community identified the land that is now Cook Park as an area of vast potential.

Guided by the plan put forward by English Avenue and Vine City residents, in 2015, the City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation approached Trust for Public Land (TPL) to tap the organisation’s proven expertise with community engagement, fundraising, and construction management.

Accordingly, TPL led fundraising and community engagement and managed construction over five years to bring the new park to life. They partnered with the City of Atlanta and Vine City residents to transform the space, and HDR was hired to lead on the design. This pivotal project represents a collaborative design effort between TPL, the City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation, the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, and most importantly, the community.

Achieved Outcomes

Environmental

Cook Park is designed to reduce flooding for the 160 acres of surrounding neighbourhoods and reduce water pollution risks to Atlanta’s drinking water. Green infrastructure features are imbued throughout the park’s design. Rain gardens provide natural, porous areas where stormwater can be absorbed into the soil. Around the boundary, planters capture runoff from the surrounding neighbourhood, managing and improving the quality of stormwater collected. During storms, a two-acre retention pond expands in addition to a collection of other green infrastructure elements in the park to store up to 9 million gallons of stormwater that would otherwise flood streets and overflow sewers. This water can then be gradually released and properly treated to remove contaminants before flowing downstream. In addition, the variety of green spaces and the growing tree canopy will increasingly cool the space as temperatures rise with a changing climate.

Social

The park has created a vibrant community destination to support the surrounding neighbourhood and visitors. The mix of recreational opportunities, including walking/running paths, a playground, splash pad, climbing boulders, outdoor fitness equipment, multi-use sports courts and public performance spaces, promote physical activity and social engagement to improve public health and community resilience. These areas also provide critical access to nature and the demonstrated mental health benefits that exposure to trees and natural space provides.

“The stormwater problems in this neighbourhood are tied to health, they’re tied to property values, they’re tied to public safety and housing availability. You can’t address any of these challenges in isolation.”

John Ahmann, CEO, Westside Future Fund


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