2023 All-America City – Decatur, GA

Located six miles east of downtown Atlanta, Decatur places a priority on providing a high quality of life in an urban environment. Decatur’s development patterns are typical of many historic cities and offer the timeless benefits of traditional planning. These make Decatur a place where daily needs can be met within the city limits, where young people can walk and bike to school (and after-school hangouts), and where people of different lifestyles have ample civic spaces in which to interact.  

Decatur celebrates its bicentennial in 2023 and continues its commitment to ensuring all voices are heard and valued. The creation of a youth council, building of an inclusive playground, and the commitment to become a Child Friendly City are just a few efforts featured in Decatur’s All-America City Award application.   

Decatur Legacy Park 

After Decatur purchased the former United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH), an eight-month visioning process was launched to determine its use. The process included four phases: Investigate, Illuminate, Ideate, and Innovate. During the Investigate phase, the visioning team worked to understand existing conditions. Throughout the Illuminate phase, community engagement solicited ideas and input. The Ideate phase took the input and created several concepts to which the community responded. The Innovate phase analyzed all the community feedback and stakeholder interviews to create one Final Concept, implementation strategy and recommendations.  

Several subsets of Decatur residents were asked for their input throughout the process. One group whose feedback proved particularly important were 3rd grade students. 3rd grade teachers were contacted specifically because their curriculum focuses on community partnerships, diversity, and inclusivity. After spending a day in the old park, 3rd graders were particularly interested in the dilapidated state of the two playgrounds on the property, making note of the lack of accessibility. As a result, the 3rd graders sent a letter urging planners to include an inclusive playground in the master plan. The Final Concept, among other things, included a rehabilitated dairy barn, bike paths, cross country and nature trails, preservation of an existing community garden, retention of most of the existing buildings, and new, inclusive playgrounds.  

Decatur applied for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for the design and installation of a totally accessible and inclusive playground at Decatur Legacy Park, providing a facility for all children and their caregivers regardless of their physical and mental abilities. Decatur received the CDBG grant and began installing the first playground in December of 2022.   

Decatur Youth Council 

The Decatur Youth Council (DYC) was established in 2016 to provide opportunities for high school-aged youth to learn more about local government and to encourage them to participate in the city’s decision-making process. The council has a permanent seat at the table of every planning process conducted in Decatur and assists with implementing the recommendations of various city-wide plans.   

The DYC participates in:  

  • Assisting city staff with public education and outreach  
  • Coordinating with established programs and organizations in the community  
  • Identifying and researching potential new programs  
  • Reviewing local, state, and regional DEI policies  
  • Identifying physical and perceived barriers to active participation  
  • Identifying the latest developments in community and youth engagement  
  • Providing recommendations regarding the implementation of various citywide plans 

 In addition to attending monthly meetings, members must: 

  • Attend a city commission meeting each semester. 
  • Develop and organize a city-wide function or event. 
  • Develop a public service announcement for the adolescent population. 
  • Research and make recommendations to the city commission regarding a specific task from the current strategic plan. 
  • Volunteer for a minimum of 16 hours.  
  • Report the council’s accomplishments to the city commission.  

The DYC routinely contributes to the community in a variety of ways. One recent example is the establishment of Legacy Park Orchard as part of DYC’s participation in the master planning process for Legacy Park. The DYC and volunteers from Decatur High School planted 25 blackberry bushes, 19 pear trees and 14 apple trees obtained through a grant they researched, applied for, and received.   

Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI)   

The CFCI is a program established by UNICEF to create safer, more just, equitable, inclusive, and child-responsive cities and communities worldwide. In 2021, Decatur signed a memorandum of understanding with UNICEF. The process involves a child rights situational analysis to establish a baseline, development of a local action plan, an implementation phase, a monitoring and evaluation framework, and formal recognition by UNICEF as a “Child Friendly City.” 

Decatur’s Children & Youth Services Division took the lead on the process, identifying other local child-focused agencies to serve on the leadership team. The leadership team led the community assessment process and recruited the Decatur Youth Council (DYC) to help.   

The adult-led leadership team began the transition into a Teen Leadership Team (TLT) in September 2022 by recruiting teens through the school system. Requirements were simple – you had to be a teen who lives in Decatur and one who wants to be involved. The 28 teens selected for the TLT used the data generated by the community assessment to identify five top priorities: 

  1. All young people regardless of background are treated equally. 
  2. Improve access to and awareness of mental health resources. 
  3. Increase trust with police and security guards. 
  4. Improve public spaces, with special attention to accessibility.  
  5. Make Decatur more environmentally conscious. 

Workgroups are currently turning their priorities into goals, which will be used to create a Local Action Plan with intended results, indicators, and clear criteria for recognition. 

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