Gathering for the Greener Good

Parks & Greenspace Conference

RESCHEDULED: Monday, August 17, 2020 | 8:30 A.M. - 5 P.M.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the recommendations from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Parks and Greenspace Conference has been rescheduled to Monday, August 17th.

Each spring, Park Pride hosts the annual Parks & Greenspace Conference, the largest parks conference in the southeast, showcasing thought leaders from Atlanta and across the nation. Through education and inspiration, the conference focuses on best practices for companies and individuals who are united by a common desire to improve parks and strengthen communities.

2020 Theme

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir

Whether you live in the city center, the suburbs, or on the countryside, your ability to access and enjoy nature is a vital component for living a happy, healthy life.

However, for those who live in cities, parks can be one of the few, if not only, places to experience nature on a daily basis. Parks offer relief from the concrete, noise, and hurried pace that surrounds us. The slices of nature that exist in parks also serve as important infrastructure for our cities and support habitats for the other living things with which we share this planet.

Connect to the Theme

The conference program, consisting of tours and lectures led by both local and national experts, will explore the relationship between parks and nature through discussions pertaining to:

  • Parks and health
  • Access to nature
  • Parks as Natural Infrastructure

  • Parks as Habitats
  • Parks as Reflections of a City’s Character

Who Should Attend

The Parks & Greenspace Conference offers something for everyone!

  • Parks & recreation professionals
  • Government policy makers
  • Architects & landscape architects
  • Urban planners
  • Citizens who want to build or improve a neighborhood park
  • Environmental & civil engineers
  • Real estate developers
  • Environmental lawyers
  • Anyone who loves parks!


Diane Jones Allen

Diane Jones Allen is currently the Program Director for Landscape Architecture, in the College of Architecture Planning, and Public Affairs, at the University of Texas at Arlington and Principal Landscape Architect of DesignJones LLC in New Orleans, LA.  Her research and practice is guided by the intersection of environmental justice, identity and sustainability in cultural landscapes, including “Nomadic” responses to “Transit Deserts,”: places of increasing transportation demand and limited access. She is the author of Lost in the Transit Desert: Race, Transit Access, and Suburban Form (2017).


David George Haskell

In a world beset by barriers, David Haskell’s work as a writer, scientist, and sound recordist reminds us that life’s substance and beauty emerge from relationship and interdependence. His first book, The Forest Unseen, that explored the secret world hidden in a single square meter of forest, was finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction and received numerous other honors. Haskell received his BA from the University of Oxford and PhD from Cornell University. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and Professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, where his classes have received national attention for combining action in the community with contemplative practice.


J. Drew Lanham

A native of Edgefield, South Carolina, J. Drew Lanham is the author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which received the Reed Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Southern Book Prize, and was a finalist for the John Burroughs Medal. He is a birder, naturalist, and hunter-conservationist who has published essays and poetry in publications including OrionAudubonFlycatcher, and Wilderness, and in several anthologies, including The Colors of NatureState of the HeartBartram’s Living Legacy, and Carolina Writers at Home. An Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University, he and his family live in the Upstate of South Carolina, a soaring hawk’s downhill glide from the southern Appalachian escarpment that the Cherokee once called the Blue Wall.


Kristine Stratton

Kristine Stratton is the president and chief executive officer of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). In her role, she is responsible for the nearly $20 million national organization that works to ensure that all people have access to parks for health, conservation, and recreation. NRPA is the national voice for the protection and creation of local parks, harnessing the passion and power of its more than 60,000 members and the millions of individuals they serve.


Morning Breakout Sessions

  • The Public Common: Parks as Venues of Cultural Change

Mark Banta, President and CEO, Piedmont Park Conservancy
Lesley Hoffarth, President and Executive Director, Forest Park Forever

Cornerstone city parks have served as our public commons throughout history: Central Park in New York City, Boston Common, The Mall in Washington D.C., Piedmont Park in Atlanta, and Forest Park in St. Louis. These large parks—providing essential green space in the midst of urban conditions—are the places for city-wide public engagement, be it for pleasure or for protest. Exposition grounds and promenades of the past gave way to protest marches, outdoor concerts, and, more recently, farmers’ markets, road races, and dog walkers. This session will explore Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and St. Louis’s Forest Park, both icons within their cities, as venues for societal change. The speakers will also discuss the challenges of “keeping up with the times” while preserving and fully interpreting the history of a landmark park.

  • Finding the Old Growth Forest in the City

Kathryn Kolb, Director, EcoAddendum

Illustrated by her own award-winning photography, Kathryn Kolb, will deliver an in-depth introduction to Atlanta’s iconic and beautiful urban forests. Greenspaces vary in their health, quality, and value to the larger ecosystem. Forested greenspaces are especially critical as natural infrastructure within cities, and to our own quality of life. Kolb will explain the phrases ‘old growth tree,’ and ‘old growth forest remnant’ and help the audience understand how to recognize and evaluate forest quality. Understanding urban forest health and value is critical for the best care, public use and enjoyment of parks and greenspaces. The audience will gain a deeper understanding of the intrinsic value and services forests provide and achieve a deeper understanding of how special our own urban forest is to the nature of the our city.

  • Litter Hotspots: From our Atlanta parks to the world’s most plastic polluted beach

Jason Ulseth, Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

Brett Howell, Executive Director, Howell Conservation Fund
Jon Radtke, Water Sustainability Program Director, Coca-Cola
Don Bates, Founder, Osprey Initiative, LLC, owner of the Litter Gitter trash trap technology

The way we manage litter and trash in our parks and open spaces is enormously impactful to our watersheds, both locally and globally. In this talk, participants will discover how trash in our public greenspaces migrates across the world via streams and rivers to collect in our oceans. Panelists include local, federal and international experts who will discuss strategies and initiatives to keep litter out of our waterways and terrestrial habitats. Those attending this session will leave with a deeper understanding of the link between individual behaviors and global ecosystem health.

  • The Ties that Bind – Parks and Social Dimensions of Health

Viniece Jennings, Ph.D.

This session will explore the role of city parks in social well-being and public health. The presentation will also highlight community oriented-programs that encourage people to develop a stronger bond with green spaces and residents.

  • Putting the Flint River Back on the Map

Hannah Palmer, Coordinator, Finding the Flint

Stephanie Berens, Deputy Administrator/Greenspace, Clayton County Parks and Greenspace
Tasha Hall Garrison, Economic Development, City of College Park
Polly Sattler, Board Member, Flint Riverkeeper, Senior Sustainability Planner, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Finding the Flint launched in 2017 with the ambitious goal of putting the Flint River’s headwaters back on the map in an urban area that includes 4 cities, 2 counties, and the world’s busiest airport. Where do you start? This panel features a cross section of participants in the Finding the Flint Working Group, from College Park to Clayton County Parks, and the airport in between. The panel discussion will focus on collaborating across jurisdictions, raising awareness and changing perceptions of a forgotten river, and delivering community benefits.

  • Parks Connecting People and Nature: Parks as Refuge for Indigenous Plants and Wildlife Habitats

Rick Huffman, Principal, Earth Design
Holley Owings, Landscape Architect, Earth Design

Cities are increasingly aware of the pitfalls of traditional landscape design and maintenance practices–the dependence on pesticides, herbicides, artificial irrigation, and the noisy, polluting maintenance equipment have separated us from the natural world and fragmented the natural habitats around us. This talk will explore ways that the City of Greenville, SC, is modeling greenspaces on natural ecosystems, and taking advantage existing natural areas to provide healthier public parks and urban ecosystems simultaneously. The speakers will address the adjustments that have been necessary to the design and maintenance practices for ongoing success. By embracing Nature’s amenities, parks can serve as critical links for reducing fragmented wildlife habitats and provide refuge for indigenous plants and wildlife.

  • Think Green: Refining Urban Parks with Living Infrastructure 

Jon Calabria, Ph.D, Associate Professor, University of Georgia College of Environment + Design
Steve Sanchez, Principal and Environmental Specialist, HGOR
Alfred Vick, Georgia Power Professor in Environmental Ethics, Director of the Environmental Ethics Certificate Program, University of Georgia College of Environment + Design
Andrew Pankopp, PE, LEED BD + C Vice President of Land Development, Long Engineering

Human-made infrastructure is a non-negotiable necessity in our growing cities, but who says it can’t be an amenity? This panel discussion will tackle some of the most critical environmental issues with urban development and what measures can be taken to mitigate them through the lens of green infrastructure in park design. Solutions to this eco-conscious topic will cover regional opportunities as well as local and site-specific challenges.

  • With Deer Ears and Owl Eyes: Go Out and Experience Nature!

John I. Connors, Acting Director, Neighborhood Ecology Corps
Liani Yirka, Assistant Park Director, Walnut Creek Wetland Park

The Neighborhood Ecology Corp (students)
Nicole Morrison
Taleigha Chambers
Mikaya McClain
John L. Quinn III

Awaken your senses on a special outdoor tour led by budding environmental educators from the Neighborhood Ecology Corps, a program of the Center for Human Earth Restoration in Raleigh, NC. Come learn what it means to have “deer ears, raccoon fingers, owl eyes, and a wolf nose” when walking in nature to get the most out of your time outside. Learn how these young environmentalists are awakening a passion for nature in themselves and their communities, and be prepared to walk away inspired!


Afternoon Breakout Sessions

  • Nature-based Solutions: A Tool for Climate Preparedness + Equity

Shelby Busó, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Atlanta, Mayor’s Office of One Atlanta

Jill Dixon, AICP, Associate Principal, Sasaki
Katherine Hagemann, Resilience Program Manager for Adaptation, Office of Resilience, Miami-Dade County
Melanie Gárate, Climate Resiliency Project Manager, Mystic River Watershed Association

Ninety-six percent of the U.S. population lives in counties where federally-declared, weather-related disasters have occurred since 2010. Learn how nature-based strategies can help communities address climate risks–flooding, heat waves, and sea level rise–while also bringing health, recreation, and environmental benefits. This panel will take attendees on a virtual tour across the US to see how cities like Boston, Denver, Baton Rouge, and Miami are leveraging nature-based solutions to grow more resilient communities while also expanding access to outdoor recreation, especially for under-served neighborhoods.

  • Natural and Engineered Green Infrastructure in Atlanta’s Park and Open Spaces

Tamara Graham, Project Manager, City of Atlanta, Department of Watershed Management
Cory Rayburn, Watershed Manager II, City of Atlanta, Department of Watershed Management
Amanda Hallauer, Watershed Manager, City of Atlanta, Department of Watershed Management
Aaron Weiner, Senior Landscape Architect, Office of Park Design, City of Atlanta, Department of Parks & Recreation

Two of Atlanta’s municipal departments are teaming up to integrate stormwater management systems within the city’s park and open space network for “green” infrastructure alternatives. This partnership, between the Department of Watershed Management and the Department of Parks and Recreation, will protect sensitive riparian corridors by conserving natural greenspace and greenway properties. The two departments are working to manage stormwater within existing parks when possible, using practices that mimic the natural hydrologic cycle. New projects include bioretention in pocket parks, stream restoration, and strategic reforestation of riparian corridors. Reforestation will both filter pollutants from stormwater runoff and expand the percentage of canopy cover of the urban forest.

  • Management of Non-Native Invasive Species in Public Spaces

Walter Bland, Managing Partner, Rock Spring Restoration
Adam Betuel, Conservation Director, Atlanta Audubon Society

This two-part talk will be an overview of strategies for eradicating non-native, invasive species (NNIS) in public spaces. We will cover site assessment, project planning, budgeting, prioritization, implementation, evaluation and follow up. We will touch on the identification of major pest plants, and discuss project planning, including integrated pest management practices, safe and effective use of herbicides, coordination of professional and volunteer work, project assessment and evaluation. Part two of the talk will delve into the benefits of this work to our native urban wildlife. Birds connect us with the natural world, are vital to our economy, and are essential for functioning ecosystems. We will highlight the diversity of birds found in metro Atlanta, how restoration aids these species, why native plants and birds are crucial for one another, the importance of habitat diversity, and how they can be used to engage our communities.

  • Activate Your Greenspace with City Nature Challenge!

Eli Dickerson, Ecologist, Fernbank Museum of Natural History
Robby Astrove, Manager of the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, DeKalb County Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs
Jonah McDonald, Mason Mill Park Naturalist, DeKalb County Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs

City Nature Challenge is an annual bioblitz event that is free and open to all cities worldwide. The goal is to get individuals and families outside to observe nature and log as many wild species as possible through the free iNaturalist smartphone app. City Nature Challenge partners from local greenspaces will discuss the unique ways they use the program to activate their greenspace, along with ideas on how you can do the same during this year’s Challenge, April 24-27!

  • Natural Journaling with Chattahoochee Nature Center

Tom Howick, Ph.D., Senior Director of Education, Chattahoochee Nature Center
Kim Hakimain, Partnership Coordinator, Chattahoochee Nature Center
Elizabeth Royeton, Naturalist Coordinator Assistant, Chattahoochee Nature Center
Kim Davenport, Scheduling Coordinator, Chattahoochee Nature Center

How do you connect to nature? Participants in this hands-on, outdoor workshop will enhance their inner naturalist and sense of wonder. During the workshop, you will go outside and explore nature using hand lenses and nature journals to record your observations. Soon, you’ll be thinking like a naturalist!

  • Holistic Park Design: Parks are for People, Critters, and Stormwater Too!

Carlos Perez, Perez Planning + Design

Micah Lipscomb, Senior Landscape Architect, Perkins+Will
Stacy Funderburke, Assistant Regional Counsel, The Conservation Fund
James Remlin, Project Manager, Sherwood Design Engineers

Parks are the ultimate multitaskers, offering recreation, ecological services, and stormwater management. Parks that serve multiple roles require an integrated approach to overlapping habitats and uses. This panel will explore the places where stormwater meets wildlife habitat, meets recreating humans in a variety of parks, including Candler Park, Boulevard Crossing Park, Browns Mill Food Forest, and Westside Park. The panel will also highlight new and emerging Atlanta land acquisitions that offer exciting opportunities for demonstrating these principles.

  • Forest Bathing: Experience the Calm of Nature

Phyllis Abramson, RN, PhD; Certified Forest Therapy Guide

Participants will accompany Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, Phyllis Abramson, on a one-hour Forest Bathing experience in Storza Woods at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Connect to nature through all five senses and bathe in the vast array of health benefits nature provides. Step into the present moment, de-stress, and relax.

  • Reconciling History and Social Justice in Atlanta’s Parks

Mary Fernandez, Special Events and Volunteer Manager, Historic Oakland Foundation
Sofia Bork, Community Engagement Director, Sara J. Gonzalez Memorial Park
Claire Haley, Special Advisor to the Chief Executive Officer, Atlanta History Center
Marcy Breffle, Education Manager at Historic Oakland Foundation

Parks often reflect the social norms and power structures of the eras in which they were created, and evidence of these origins can persist in the form of monuments, names, and even design. During this panel, presenters will discuss the ways in which parks can engage with some of their own problematic histories, address and interpret them appropriately, and become places of social justice.

  • From East Harlem to West Atlanta: Sowing the Seeds of Community Resilience

Jacob Lange, Senior Associate / Atlanta Studio Director, RLA, LEED AP, Starr Whitehouse
Michael Haggerty, Associate, AICP, Assoc. AIA, Starr Whitehouse
Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks, Ph.D, MPH, Spelman College
Brandon Taylor, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Dream Charter School High School

Come learn about two community-based planning and design projects in places that are geographically distant but socio-economically similar. The panelists will present strategies for building infrastructure that bolsters community resilience in the face of environmental and socio-economic stressors. The design consultants, along with community partners, will share lessons learned, unforeseen outcomes, and the potential for new applications and adaptations of this participatory design model across region and social context.



The 2020 Parks and Greenspace Conference offers multiple opportunities to extend the learning and experience “The Nature of Our City” in action! Tour registration and payment is separate from conference registration.

We hope you’ll join us at one of our exciting tour options below!

Naturally Resilient: The Future of Atlanta

Saturday, August 15
8:45 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Washington Park Tennis Center
(1125 Lena St NW, Atlanta, GA 30314)
Cost: $5/person


Together, climate change and the continued development of Atlanta are creating an increasing need for creative and sustainable stormwater management solutions, in addition to easy access to nature, parkland, and all of the associated benefits. On this tour, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at three sites that demonstrate what’s possible using natural green infrastructure to manage stormwater, improve a watershed, and increase quality of life within a community!

Enjoy a beautiful walk through the McDaniel Branch ponds and wetlands: a restored riparian / meadow / aquatic ecosystem (and now an Atlanta Audubon Certified Wildlife Sanctuary!) that used to be a degraded and eroded kudzu field. Attendees will then visit two other sites slated for similar improvements on Atlanta’s Westside: Valley of the Hawks (location of a future constructed wetland) and Greensferry (where Proctor Creek and a tributary will be daylighted). Both projects, once completed, will mitigate flooding, improve stream quality, and provide community members passive access to new natural greenspaces in their neighborhoods.

Accessibility: This tour consists of loading/unloading from a bus multiple times and hiking in unpaved and wild spaces.

Building the Blueway

Saturday, August 15
Time: TBD 
Blue Heron Nature Preserve
(4055 Roswell Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30342)
Cost: $5/person


Experience the “Blueway”: the new walking trail system at Blue Heron Nature Preserve with new and renovated segments to create a continuous 3-mile trail system at this gem of a ‘nature’ park in the middle of Buckhead. Learn about what it takes to build a pedestrian trail system in a heavily developed area with sensitive natural features while enjoying the scenery on the way.

Join representatives from the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, contractor Tailored Trails, and design consultant Pond on a walk as they share their experiences from fundraising and planning through design, permitting and construction of this new trail network.

Accessibility: Gravel and boardwalk type trail with some areas of steps and steep slopes. Portions of the trail are ADA accessible.

Connecting People and Nature for Community Benefit: Workforce Development in Southwest Atlanta

Sunday, August 16
9 – 11:30 a.m.
Outdoor Activity Center
(1442 Richland Rd SW, Atlanta, GA 30310)
Cost: $5/person


Join this interactive and engaging tour of green infrastructure and arts/creative placemaking projects completed in the Utoy Creek Watershed! Discover how this work is about more than improving stormwater management and water quality/quantity in public and private places, it’s about community benefits, and public-private partnerships to improve quality of life, economic opportunity, the environment, connecting people and nature, and mitigating displacement as our city grows and develops.

The projects visited on this tour–which include projects at the Outdoor Activity Center and Reverend James Orange Park–have been completed as part of Southface’s Atlanta CREW (Culture-Resilience-Environment-Workforce) green infrastructure workforce development program in partnership with WAWA, HABESHA, Greening Youth Foundation, the TransFormation Alliance, and the City of Atlanta.

Participants will hear from Atlanta CREW graduates who will share their experience with the program and projects.

Accessibility: All tour locations are ADA accessible.

Urban Forest: Diamond in the Rough Tour

Grove Park
(760 Francis Place NW, Atlanta, GA 30318)
Cost: $5/person


Kathryn Kolb, Master naturalist with Eco-A, and Lisa Kruse, botanist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will lead a walk through one of Atlanta’s iconic urban forests.

Kolb and Kruse will explain how forests vary in their health, quality, and value to the larger ecosystem. They will look at the structure of an urban forest, from understory to canopy, explaining the concept of ‘old growth’ and “secondary growth,” explaining how to recognize forest health and quality, as well as forest threats.

Unlike most other major cities, Atlanta retains remnants of the original forest of our region, even close to the downtown corridor. See how Atlanta’s unique history gave our city an exceptional urban forest, how these forests support life, and how we can protect and restore these urban treasures.

Accessibility: This walk will take place on natural, unpaved trails that includes steep slopes. It is not recommended for individuals in wheelchairs or with mobility challenges. The walk is rated moderate, about 1.5 miles.


Registration for the 19th Annual Parks & Greenspace Conference is now open!

Join over 450 park professionals, advocates, and enthusiasts from across the country at the largest parks and greenspace conference in the Southeast!

Registration: $170
Late Registration: $190
(begins Monday, August 10th through Wednesday, August 19th)
Day of Registration: $200


2020 Conference Sponsors

Presenting Sponsor

Cox Conserves

Community Engagement Sponsor

Kaiser Permanente

Community Building Sponsor

The Home Depot Foundation

Venue Sponsor

Atlanta Botanical Garden


COA Dept of Watershed Management
The Conservation Fund
Integrated Land Design
The Nature Conservancy
The Trust for Public Land


ADS & Playground Creations
ASLA Georgia
Astra Group
CoA Dept. of City Planning
Cooper Carry
Dominica Recreation and GameTime
Great Southern Recreation
Greenfields Outdoor Fitness
Jones Day
Long Engineering
Perez Planning + Design
Perkins + Will
Piedmont Park Conservancy
Play South Playground Creators
Playworld Preferred
Starr Whitehouse
The Turner Foundation
University of Georgia College of Environment + Design


Atlanta BeltLine Partnership
Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters
City of Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission
City of Decatur Active Living
The Coca-Cola Company
The Concord Group
Georgia Chapter of the American Planning Association
Georgia Forestry Commission
Invest Atlanta
Reeves Young
Smith Dalia Architects
Woodruff Park