Freedom Park Master Plan

I’ve been living in Freedom Park for 20 years.

That’s to say, not a day goes by when I’m not walking somewhere in the park, throwing a ball for our dog, pruning some trees, removing invasive plants, planning a new tree planting, or supervising a project to plant and maintain trees.

Poplar Circle? There are trees in that section now 50 to 60 feet tall that Tree Watch and Trees Atlanta planted together. The playground is surrounded by our trees. The memorial grove tucked behind the playground some of us boldly created on an ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission model. The serpentine paths leading down to and up from Austin Avenue are shaded by trees we planted in the past two decades. Ditto the other side of Highland. Ditto trees all the way along the Freedom Park Trail into Candler Park.

Every tree of ours has a unique personal history. I can tell you the life story of the American linden near the MARTA parking lot. The Harold Saether memorial white oak. The katsura planted by the late Oreon Mann. I’ve watched our longleaf pine since it was knee-high to a baby. You get the point.

Those are my bona fides. And now I’m here to tell you that I am VERY excited about the Master Plan for Freedom Park. Years ago I began discussing with members of Freedom Park Conservancy some ideas for additional tree plantings and projects in the park. They told me, “Sounds great! We’re going to be working on a master plan soon, so let’s make sure that’s considered.” Now here we are, making excellent progress toward the next level of excellence for a park created in significant part by the hard work of people in this neighborhood.

Here’s just a partial list from the new master plan of eye-popping proposals building on the existing natural features of the park:

  • Shading and beautification of the Inman Park/Reynoldstown MARTA parking lot with new trees planted in linear soil strips
  • Inman Garden Walk
  • Inman Arboreal Gallery
  • Copenhill Terrace at a decommissioned East John Lewis Freedom Parkway
  • Meadow Rooms at Mary Lin Elementary
  • Lullwater Creek Outdoor Classrooms (will require stream restoration) in Druid Hills
  • Lake Lewis Wetland in Poncey-Highland
  • Flowering Forest tribute to John Lewis (already in progress!) in the vicinity of his plaza in Poncey-Highlands

It’s not just trees, meadows, wetlands, and environmental education that I find so exciting. I love other aspects of this plan. What do I mean by that?

  • I love the way this plan will create a “there there” for a park that may be somewhat overlooked and taken for granted. Piedmont Park gets so much attention. The new Westside Park around Bellwood Quarry will make a huge splash. Partly by the creation of branded gateways, partly by enhancing and drawing attention to FP’s existing strengths, this plan will improve the overall coherence and visibility of one of our city’s best parks.
  • I love the renewed emphasis on public art. This is one of my soapbox topics. The combination of nature and art can be extremely powerful, and in a city that has a reputation for being too busy making money and playing golf and commuting on interstates to focus on the finer things in life, I see tremendous value in more art, better art, art for everyone.
  • I love the values that infuse this plan. It’s a plan about bringing people together, for which see all the new squares and plazas and circuits that are envisioned. As an expert in the ancient world, I totally get it: the ancient Romans were geniuses at creating public spaces that drew people in like powerful magnets. We’re social creatures. We need each other. And we’re fortunate to have the chance to be together in a gorgeous natural setting like Freedom Park.
  • I love the collaborative process and highly professional work that have gone into creating this plan. In an era where it seems that we so often read about incompetence and shoddy standards, this plan is a marvel of thoroughness, expertise, and respect for the importance of design.
  • I love the potential this plan has to bring together all the adjacent neighborhoods — Inman Park, Candler Park, Poncey-Highlands, Old Fourth Ward, Druid Hills, etc. — into an even closer partnership with one another.

Kudos to those responsible for the Master Plan for Freedom Park. Will every single one of these ideas see the light of day? Of course not. But if even half of these proposed projects are implemented, the park and the city will be better for it.

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