March 5, 2021|By Aleemah Ali

Finding and Extending Peace in the Outdoors Through Parks: A 2020 Perspective of the Charles Jordan Internship

Growing up in Los Angeles, I did not see parks as places of refuge. Parks were often off-limits due to frequent gang-related activity and high crime rates. As a result, most residents did not utilize urban greenspaces, which led to city departments failing to keep the areas updated—a vicious cycle that rendered most parks useless to the community.

My interest in urban planning began while studying at Clark Atlanta University, which is located not far from English Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia—an area with historic social, economic and environmental injustices, such as damaging stormwater runoff, sewer overflow, pollution, and blighted greenspaces. After the Mercedes Benz Stadium was built in 2017, I noticed that Atlanta was becoming gentrified without an emphasis on maintaining community. During my senior year, I took a course called “Introduction to Urban Planning,” which taught me the history and significance of city planning and development. This course emphasized the importance of having a voice within urban development to create meaningful infrastructure that can consistently benefit the community.

3 5 21 img 9484 2Photo courtesy Aleemah Ali.

Historically, African Americans have not had great experiences with public greenspaces as a result of racial disparities brought upon by exclusionary zoning laws that dismantled their relationship with nature. However, there is a critical link between urban planning and the Black community that needs to be understood to improve urban society. I began to realize that something could be done to fix development in the city, however I wasn’t sure where to start.

I sought an experience that could help me gain a better understanding of urban planning and real estate development for low-income communities, and found it in The Conservation Fund’s Charles Jordan Internship opportunity with the Parks with Purpose program. Charles Jordan was The Conservation Fund’s first Black board chair and was instrumental in getting the organization involved in urban parks. This Internship was established in his name to recognize his commitment to include more people of color into the field of urban planning. This role was a great fit for me because I believe that adding more diversity to this field will create projects that specifically address the concerns of minority communities and enhance urban life.

3 5 21 2018 ParksWithPurpose Peer Exchange Atlanta RobinMcKinney246Lindsay Street Park. Photo by Robin McKinney.

I began this internship at a pivotal time due to the concurrent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and civil rights crisis creating elevated levels of stress and anxiety in the African American community.
The majority of the communities we worked with had a high demographic of low-income African American families that were stuck in food deserts that lacked access to functional public spaces. Prior to working with the Fund’s Parks with Purpose program, I did not realize how parks could benefit mental and physical health. Research shows that having access to greenspaces can assist with depression while reducing stress.

Aleemah Ali Swing KathrynJohnstonMemorial Park 7.13.20 Kelsi Eccles
Throughout the internship, I learned about the significance of community engagement and environmental conservation. I documented the impact of Parks with Purpose projects in Atlanta, Baltimore, Durham, and Raleigh and interviewed community leaders who told me how their projects benefitted their cities. I also gained an understanding of equitable environmental development that includes infrastructures like bioswales and rain gardens that combat damaging flooding from stormwater runoff and sewer overflows.

3 5 21 2018 ParksWithPurpose Peer Exchange Atlanta RobinMcKinney242Rain Garden at Lindsay Street Park in Atlanta’s English Avenue Community. Photo by Robin McKinney.

My experience and research during the internship led me to create the Community Art Project, where local artists would develop an art piece that could enhance communal health and engagement with nature at two Parks with Purpose in English Avenue—Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park and Lindsay Street Park. We engaged the community by working with Park Ambassadors and residents to create the design and plan for implementation of the project. I enjoyed working with the community while developing this project because it allowed them to be a part of change in their community. Once completed, I hope this project will enhance the physical and mental health of the residents of English Avenue through the end of the pandemic and beyond.

3 5 21 Aleemah Ali Sydney Washington Muhammad Suber close up no mask 2 Kathryn Jonston Memorial Park 9.28.20 Kelsi EcclesAleemah Ali (center) met with artists Sydney Washington (left) and Muhammad Suber (right) at Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park to discuss the art installation. Stay tuned for an update on the Community Art Project from Aleemah later in 2021, where we will see the finished artwork and hear the community’s response. Photo by Kelsi Eccles.

The Charles Jordan Internship reinforced the importance of diversity in urban planning and environmental conservation and provided hands-on experience that will help me in my career. Next, I will attend graduate school to study different ways urban communities can implement environmental conservation in their development of public spaces and affordable housing. Ultimately, my goal is to create an equitable real estate development practice to revitalize urban communities. 


Find Out More

The Charles Jordan Internship was established by The Conservation Fund to keep alive the passion, commitment and wisdom that Charles brought to his 20 years of leadership on our national Board of Directors. For the summer of 2021, the Charles Jordan Memorial Internship project is “The Selma to Montgomery March: Conservation & Collaboration.” Click here to find out more and to apply.

Learn more about the past interns and their projects:
2018
The Life and Legacy of Charles Jordan
by Emily Korest
McSEED Community Forest: Combining Sustainable Forestry With Economic Development by Emily Korest
North Rim Ranches: Sustainable Ranching and Science by the Grand Canyon by Emily Korest
Ensuring Our Nation’s History Will Not Be Forgotten: Minidoka National Historic Site by Emily Korest
2019
Hidden Hallows: Documenting and Preserving African American Cemetaries in North Carolina by Da-Mosi M. Brown-Gorham