By John Fleming
Right at the bottom of the hill, where Ferguson Street meets McLendon, is a flat piece of greenspace, lush turf the likes of a fairway, encircled (at this time of year anyway) by kudzu.
It’s the kind of vacant space — three lots coming in at about an acre — that would interest practically any developer.
Kelly Jordan, a long-time Candler Park resident and the owner of the partly kudzu-ed field, however, envisions continuing green, not paving. And in line with that, he has proposed that it becomes a city park — or more precisely, a tiny “pocket park.”
There is much to do before this becomes reality, most importantly in Jordan’s opinion, a thorough community discussion and a simultaneous outreach to the City about funding.
“I do not seek to control what a park design might look like,” Jordan said. “That should be up to the community. This should be a community design process.”
Indeed, there have already been discussions about turning the plot into park space. There were earlier talks with Stacy Funderburke of the Candler Park Conservancy and Atlanta District 2 Councilman Amir Farokhi. There was also some valuable community feedback from the Safer McLendon Project, spearheaded by Naoya Wada. Also, in mid-October, Wada helped gather about half a dozen of the neighbors near the vacant space to have a conversation
“It was a really good call,” said Mimi Rickert, who lives with her husband Sam and children, Issac, 6, and Isabel, 4, a couple of doors down from the open lot. She explained that there weren’t any objections, but plenty of support and good ideas that came out of that call.
Sam, who was also on the call, said he liked the simplicity of the idea and how it could very well turn into a gathering spot for the neighborhood. Mimi added that having Sean’s at the end of the block would likely mean more people would be able to meet up for lunch in the park.
And though they have kids, both said one of the things they liked about the conversation is that it appears the plan would be for multiple generations.
“There is a lot of thought going into this,” Sam said.
Of course, the couple is also interested in the safety aspects, such as slowing down traffic. That certainly fits in with the goals of Safer McLendon.
For one thing, the many green spaces we have in Candler Park sometimes go unnoticed. As valuable as they are to the community, they sit back off the street and are up or down a hill. This new park — which in urban planning speak would be considered a pocket park — will be visible to anyone passing through. As Wada says, it can show off who we are as a community.
“You can see what’s happening,” Wada said. “You can scan the park and get a feel of the energy that we have here. That is a very interesting attribute that it can offer, especially as it is close to the Little Candler business district. It is a very simple line of sight, and this is really wonderful. That will create some excitement and staying power.”
“I’m excited because this is part of the Safer McLendon plan,” he added.
The park, for example, could help to slow down traffic and could enhance lighting. But it could also showcase the neighborhood more directly than our existing parks and greenspaces do.
Of course, much hangs on acquiring the land, especially the City’s or more specifically, the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation’s, appetite for buying new land in a neighborhood some would describe as “park rich.”
For his part, Farokhi, who is aware of the budding pocket park plans, said in an email, “I don’t have any info on a possible purchase at this point.”
Typically, when parkland is purchased for municipal use, a city appraiser would offer a value opinion. So, at least in some ways, the plan is still in its early days.
Funderburke, a long-time board member of the Candler Park Conservancy, said he and his colleagues at the Conservancy have learned many lessons in the past few years and would be more than willing to help advise with the establishment of a pocket park.
“It certainly could be a great asset to the community,” said Funderburke. “We are going to need to have a community conversation and we need some creative thinking about it.”
John Fleming is CPNO’s Communication Officer and a 10-year resident of Canadler Park.