Community Activism, In Action
As early as the 1960s the Georgia Department of Transportation began to draw up plans for a toll road that would link the Stone Mountain Freeway with Downtown Atlanta and extend Georgia 400 south to I-675. This crisscross of interstate-like toll roads had what are now some of Atlanta’s most desirable neighborhoods in its path – Inman Park, Candler Park, Druid Hills (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, father of landscape architecture and designer of New York’s Central Park), Poncey-Highland, Virginia-Highland, Morningside, and Lake Claire.
By the early 1970s neighborhood groups had formed and banded together to fight the highway and in 1971 a judge suspended construction until an environmental impact study could be completed. All the while road protesters continued the fight and gained the attention of then-Governor Jimmy Carter, who in 1972 signed legislation to stop the road projects. The land laid dormant for the next decade.
Despite his initial aid in stopping the highway, President Carter helped the idea reemerge in 1982 as the Presidential Parkway. His support for the road project was now tendered on the understanding that part of the land would be used for his Presidential Library. Neighborhood groups reignited their advocacy and began assembling. Road Busters, an informal collective, participated in nonviolent civil actions while CAUTION Inc (Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares in Older Neighborhoods) led the legal battle against the DOT roads. Over the years CAUTION spent more than $600,000 in legal fees and received nearly $600,000 more in pro-bono services to defeat the roads.
In 1990 with a change in Mayor and the 1996 Olympic Games looming, a final push was made to resolve the fighting and come to a final resolution. The final settlement between CAUTION, the City of Atlanta, and the GaDOT was signed in June 1992 and effectively killed the toll roads as planned. In turn a dramatically scaled down road, the modern day Freedom Parkway, was agreed to.
In 1990 the Atlanta office of the landscape architecture firm EDAW was brought in by CODA (the Corporation for Olympic Development in Atlanta) to plan and design Freedom Park – the more than 200 acres of leftover greenspace surrounding Freedom Parkway. Already set forth was a plan for an Olmsted-ian theme for the park which would use public open space to build a sense of community, respect the landscape and preserve the topography, use indigenous plants, create wide paths and drives, and sensitively integrate built elements into the plan.
The first phase of Freedom Park opened just before the 1996 Olympics and in 1997 CAUTION changed its name to Freedom Park Conservancy, adopting a new mission to steward this new park. The Park was officially dedicated in 2000 and was designated as Atlanta’s Public Art Park by Atlanta City Council in 2007.
The Park now connects the many revived in-town neighborhoods whose residents fought to stop the roads, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Miles of trails built by PATH Foundation wind through the Park, and thousands of people use the park every week for exercise and relaxation.