The Houston studio of international landscape architecture and urban design firm SWA Group has been selected by the Freedom Park Conservancy to create a master plan that would breathe new life into one of Atlanta’s largest, busiest, and most unique parks.
Linear and lined with both temporary and permanent public art installations, the cruciform Freedom Park—more of a greenway-cum-sculpture park than anything—encompasses over 200 acres of land that links downtown Atlanta with a patchwork of historic neighborhoods on the city’s east side. While Freedom Park serves as a singular asset for the city, its conception in the 1990s (it officially opened in 2000) was born from the need to do something about a painful and very conspicuous reminder from Atlanta’s not-so-distant past: An aborted, 1970s-era east side freeway construction project that was ultimately halted by then-Governor Jimmy Carter but only after hundreds of homes were razed and entire communities displaced through eminent domain.
While the Georgia Department of Transportation’s freeway project never came to fruition, a victory for the local activists and community leaders who rallied against it, it did leave behind large swaths of overgrown, blighted land—a variable kudzu jungle—that long sat empty and unused. That is until the creation of what is today a well-maintained and topographically varied park popular with joggers, walkers, cyclists, and out-of-town sightseers looking to take in the city from a decidedly less tourist-clogged vantage point. A major attraction adjacent to Freedom Park’s eight miles of trails is the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, which is located at the park’s axis; the museum site, in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, was originally slated to be an interchange for the scrapped freeway project.
A press release from the Freedom Park Conservancy stated that SWA Group was selected in part for its track record of transforming overlooked urban tracts into environmentally sustainable, art-integrated public spaces all the while making connections to the unique history of each site in question; the conversancy calls out Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park as being a prominent example of this approach.
“Atlanta’s Freedom Park is more about a ‘state of mind’ than a spatial concept, like the Beltline,” said SWA Group principal and designer Natalia Beard in a statement, referencing Atlanta’s ambitious, ongoing rail-trail project that, when complete, will be the longest paved trail surface in the U.S. “Public reclamation is central to this place. How can the park better connect the surrounding neighborhoods? How can this ‘art park’ find contemporary expression? How can design offer different perceptions of the land and the history that has shaped it? How to tap into residents’ hopes and dreams for this place? We are excited to engage with the Conservancy and the City of Atlanta to answer these questions in the master plan.”
The master plan process will launch in the coming months, and AN will provide more information as it becomes available.